The Inner Game
1. Know Your Audience
If you are not familiar with your audience, you will need to do a little research. For my professional speaking presentations, I will conduct 3-10 informational interviews with audience members, often from different functional areas. What do they value? What fears or challenges do they have? What experiences have shaped them? In the process of getting to know my audience, I would begin to almost fall in love with them.
2. Mentally Focus on Giving the Audience a Gift
Changing my focus from me to them was what made the biggest difference for me in managing my fear. I began to see my presentations as a gift I was giving to the audience. I was giving them a gift that could help them change for the positive what they might think, feel or do. My fear started to turn to excitement. Like a mother who can’t wait for her children to open their birthday gifts that she had carefully selected just for them, I couldn’t wait for my audience to receive the gift of my presentation.
3. Know Your Material
This is standard advice and still very important! You must know your material and I don’t mean that you must memorize it. Don’t memorize. Internalize. Be so familiar with your material that you can talk with friends about it easily. Also, know more than you would ever tell in a presentation. That way if you happen to forget something (and you will) you have extra material to access. Plus, remember that your audience doesn’t know if you forgot something. As far as they know, the way you give a speech is how you intended to give it.
4. Accept the Fear
I call this radical acceptance. Don’t condemn or berate yourself for having fear or having visible nervous symptoms. Allow it to just be. And allow yourself to be aware of the fear as you are speaking—it’s there, but it doesn’t have to paralyze you. You have the power to choose how to deal with it. Think about how you would treat someone you love with the same fear and treat yourself the same.
5. Give up Perfectionism.
Striving for perfection is healthy and admirable. Expecting achievement of perfection as the only acceptable outcome ensures that every performance will be a failure. The unreasonable and unrealistic expectation of perfection creates the kind of tension that causes people to “choke.” To err is definitely human and in fact, our imperfections are what make us authentic and relatable.
6. Ask yourself—“What’s the Worst That Can Happen?”
Sometimes fear can grow out of proportion to actual consequences. If you know what you are afraid of, ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” if what you fear comes to pass. And then, mentally plan with how you will deal with it. Let’s say you are afraid your hands are going to shake when you speak—what’s the worst that can happen? People might think you are nervous? You might drop your notes? Whatever “the worst” is for you, address it. So what if people think you are nervous, is that so bad? If you drop your notes, what will you do? Will you have them numbered so that they will be easy to reorder?
7. Visualize Success
What you focus on will be what you get. Think about what you want, not about what you don’t want. I’ve noticed that in my son’s soccer games that all too often when a player is trying to make a goal, they seem to kick the ball right at the goalie. They should kick where the goalie isn’t, but instead focus on the goalie. Similarly don’t focus on all the negative that might happen, because you will be programming yourself negatively. Focus and visualize the optimum situation: an attentive audience and you as a confident speaker. Visualize how you will move and look as the speaker you want to be.
The calming effects of meditation, prayer and self-hypnosis are well-documented. All three involve settling the mind and often result in a calming, deep breathing pattern which is the opposite of how you feel when you are afraid.
9. Consider outside help
If you still feel debilitating fear after trying some of the above techniques, you might want to enlist the help of a professional. There are mental health professionals and practitioners of other calming or behavioral modification techniques that can assist you in managing your fear.
Next week: How to manage the fear: The Outer Game