“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking,” comedian Jerry Seinfeld mused. “Number two is death. Death is number two. This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
Not even the professionals get off easy when it comes to public speaking. Presenters from TED may look cool, calm, and collected. But, it’s not that easy. In his book, TED curator Chris Anderson discusses the many nervous speakers that have passed through TED’s wings.
There are plenty of suggestions to overcome general fear, but the fear of public speaking, or glossophobia, is a bit trickier. 75 percent of the U.S. suffers from speech anxiety. That means three out of every four people would rather not talk in front of the others.
As Mark Twain famously said,
“There are two types of speakers: those that are nervous and those that are liars.”
Statistically speaking, he’s right.
I’ve often wondered – why would anyone skydive? It’s terrifying: you can’t breathe, you’re unprotected, and your blood pressure is, well, stratospheric.
Why subject yourself to such strain?
Turns out, it’s for the payoff. For the feeling of freeing yourself — if only just for a moment — from the grip of the earth below.
Presenting, believe it or not, is quite a bit like skydiving. Even the physical sensations are often the same! But delivering a speech is not only less life-threatening, it’s also infinitely richer in reward.
That’s why the last step of the Moxie Method is addressed not to your body, but your state of mind. “E” stands for “Enjoy the Experience.”
An invitation to speak — to a TED audience, a board of directors, or a Rotary Club- gives you a handful of moments to enrich the lives of others. For just a few minutes, instead of falling, you’ve been given the chance to lift others. What a gift!
As we all know, though, that gift involves risk. Some speaker coaches will tell you to ignore your fear or act like you’re invincible. From our experience at Moxie, we’ve found that rarely works in practice.
The good news is, you don’t have to overcome your fear in order to be a great public speaker. In fact, it never goes away entirely. Don’t ignore your fears and the risks of the moment; acknowledge them and embrace the adrenaline.
Luckily, we have a wealth of knowledge to share with you from our experience in public speaking training. Not only will we share our best techniques that you can use the next time you have pre-presentation jitters, we’ll also tell stories about three notable TED speakers who overcame their speech anxiety on that little red circle.
So here’s your public speaking training inside scoop:
Focus on the Impact
Even the most seasoned speakers get nervous before a big speech. Instead of focusing on the fear, though, we like to tell clients to walk into it, to channel it into an energy unsurpassed in power.
Sure, you’re thinking, but what’s that mean in real life?
It means forgetting about what people think of you and attending to your message instead.
Focus on your creation, not its reception.
Actors know that effective performance requires focus on their objective rather than on what’s happening inside; either inside their own mind, or trying to guess what’s happening in the minds of others.
Your objective in speaking is sharing the gift you’ve brought to the moment: your message.
“The journey of greatness begins when our deep desire for comfort and ease is overpowered by our desire to connect and contribute.”
Monica Lewinsky was seized with fear before and during her TED Talk.
After years of public ridicule and shame, Lewinsky decided to come forward. “‘The shame sticks to you like tar,” she told The Guardian. This was her chance to set the record straight about her shame. But would everyone’s preconceived thoughts drown out her words?
However, Monica knew that what she had to say mattered. In fact, she wrote it at the top of the notes she brought on stage. Every time she glanced at the music stand that held her papers, she saw, “THIS MATTERS.”
Realizing the importance of your message minimizes your fear. Remember, your audience wants and needs to hear what you have to say. Your message is more important than your fear.
In our public speaking training, we have our participants write down their specific message and why it is important. You can do this, too, and use it as your fuel to power through fear.
Surely, there’s a reason you want to deliver this talk or give this performance that goes beyond just doing your job. There’s a message you want your audience to walk away with — to bring back to their own jobs, teams, families, and communities. Maybe it’s an insight, an inspiration, a direction, or an experience. What is the gift you want to give? How can you tap into your passion for giving it to others? How generously are you able to share it? How vulnerable will you be in the process?
There will be discomfort — it’s like skydiving, remember? — but the reward is often a life-changing connection with your listeners.
Isn’t that worth it?
Vulnerability is Power
When you’re speaking, you’re vulnerable. There’s no denying it. You could be laughed at, snored at, heckled, walked out on, or just plain ignored. (These things really don’t happen as often as we fear, though, most audiences are quite polite!)
But look at the other side of the equation: the chance for a moment to connect — to get as close as human minds can get — with a room of people who want to hear what you have to say.
Instead of covering up our vulnerability, let’s embrace it. It’s long past time we stopped talking about imagining folks in their underwear. Silly tricks like that only make it harder to stay in the moment and to be truly present.
Your instincts will tell you to put up emotional walls, to hide your feelings, to protect yourself and it can be tempting to think that confidence means preventing anything from getting to us. But –believe it or not — the truth is that our vulnerability can be our greatest strength.
The way to connect with an audience is by being human. That means having flaws and making mistakes. It means allowing your audience to get to know you. You can’t connect with them if you don’t enable them to connect with you.
Drop your guard to connect. We love how Brene Brown says:
“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”
The more connected you are to what you have to say, the more connected your audience will be, too. They will feel what you feel. You can even share your story and why it has meaning.
Sometimes the best way to make something universal is to make it personal.
Vulnerability feels risky. This is why our clients actually practice this in our public speaking training — It’s tough to deliver a message when the stakes feel high. But the stakes are high because you’ve been given this instant to change things, and all that requires is accepting and working with your unease.
In the end, that’s what performance is all about. It’s stepping forward when called, even if that’s the last thing you’re comfortable doing.
Psychologists are constantly finding new ways in which gratitude makes us healthier, happier, and more resilient.
The same is true in presentations. Walking into your speech with a spirit of gratitude will calm your nerves and put you in just the right mental space.
You can use your unique expression of gratitude to connect with your audience, gain empathy, and truly inspire others. All you have to do is find that place in the core of you that whispers the message you must share with the world.
Isn’t it amazing that we live in a world prosperous enough for you to devote your time and money and energy into this speech? Have you considered the talents and gifts you’re putting to work when you employ these public speaking training techniques?
And how incredible is the fact that all those people in the audience –with thousands of notifications on their phones, and lists to write, and articles to read — are giving you their attention, allowing you to change their lives?
As overused and preachy as the word “gratitude” can get, that does not minimize its power in overcoming your fear and connecting authentically with your audience. Tap into your heart — and not your head — for this one and you will find it.
Find the Humor
What is the opposite of fear? Humor? Laughter? Both?
Daniel Hardman’s struggle with anxiety taught him to laugh at fear. A stand up comedian and neuroscience student, he took a step back and found humor in the situation at hand. Hardman rationalizes the irrational. You can do the same.
Humor is the great unifier. Besides humanizing a speaker, humor also creates perspective. Laughing reduces anxiety, but also allows a speaker to step back and say, “I’m so worked up…over what?”
“Control is an illusion,” Hardman says. Knowing this lets a speaker throw caution to the wind. Try finding the humor in your situation.
We’re all in this together–let’s laugh about it.
Right now, take a moment to step back from your speech and find the angle that makes it all funny.
Humor comes from oppositions and contradictions: what aspects of your speech push against each other? This is the breeding ground for comedy.
Turn Your Fear Into Excitement
Joe Kowan, a graphic designer and musician, had a problem. He craved connecting with an audience through his music–not an unusual goal for an artist or speaker. His issue: his intense fear of public speaking.
In his TED Talk, Kowan talks about his “flight or fight” response to performing for crowds. (And did you know that John Lennon was also so overwrought with nerves that he threw up before every performance?)
How did he overcome it?
Well, he didn’t. Instead, Kowan incorporated his fear into his act.
“By having a song that explained what was happening to me, while it was happening,” Kowan explains, “that gave the audience permission to think about it. They didn’t have to feel bad for me because I was nervous–they could experience that with me.”
Embracing his stage fright allowed Kowan to perform his set. To overcome your own speech anxiety, use your fear. Turn that nervousness into excitement. Doing this will stop your fear from inhibiting you. Make it an asset.
How do you turn fear into excitement? It comes back to your message. Be excited to deliver it because it’s important.
Know the significance of your message. Be vulnerable and incorporate gratitude. Find humor in your situation. Embrace fear. By doing all these, you’ll not only overcome your stage fright, you’ll rise above it.
Your message and your preparation are the parachute. Now, step into the fear and fly.
Public Speaking 101: Enjoy the Experience Action Items
Reframe: G.K. Chesterton once said, “An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.” We at Moxie (and even Rumi) couldn’t agree more. Speaking is, in large part, a mental game. You’ve prepared the adventure, now enjoy it.
Visualize Success: From your very first practice session, imagine the perfect presentation from beginning to end. Your standard for success isn’t perfection — just excellence — but keeping the goal in mind makes it easier to achieve it. Build this visualization technique into your pre-speech ritual for extra effectiveness.
Find Your Zen (or Rock Out!): Rituals and routines can help you get into the flow. Give careful thought to the moments before your speech.You might listen to a favorite song just before you go on. Or choose a mantra that gets you in the right state of mind. Quiet the rush of the mind. Music, a mantra, the touch of a loved one – know what lights you up, and keep it close. Just relax and be.
Be Prepared: It sounds obvious, but the first step to quieting your fears is being prepared. This means knowing the material so well that you don’t have to think about it. It also means making sure all the logistics are set well in advance. For more information on how to memorize and prepare, check out Got Moxie? All About the “It Factor.”
Love it? Want more tips on avoiding stage fright, how to take a fear inventory, and tips on creating a warm up ritual and for during your speech to fight fear? Download our Enjoy the Experience worksheet.
Still writing your speech? Check out, Public Speaking Training 101: Content and Preparation Before Your Speech.
So nervous you can’t catch your breath? Read all about how to Breathe Deeply to Speak Powerfully.
Want ALL the info immediately? The ideas shared in this article are excerpts from our Speak with Moxie e-book. To get the full action-packed book immediately at your fingertips, you can find it here.