If you try too hard to suppress the symptoms of speaking anxiety—the shaky hands, the red face, the stiff or jerky body movements, the dry mouth, the trembling voice—you can end up in a vicious cycle that only worsens your anxiety and increases the expression of nervous symptoms. It can lead to an overwhelming sense of dread that can hinder you personally and professionally. You can break out of the vicious cycle, find your voice and speak with increasing confidence.
First, realize you are not alone. The fear of public speaking is famously widespread. And it can occur at all levels of speaking, from beginner to professional. Recently, I sat in the front row during a well-paid professional speaker’s presentation and noticed that his hands shook as he spoke. Nobody really seemed to care.
Second, realize there are actions that you can take to manage the fear. Action is the antidote to fear. If you want to play the game, you have to act. There is both an inner game and an outer game in a winning presentation. Did you catch on to the sports metaphor? If you are sports-minded, you can apply many of the same performance techniques to giving a speech. You might even consider “Cross training” your fear by becoming involved in a sport (or a creative endeavor) that has a performance component.
For several years, in my 40’s, I was involved in karate. As part of the class we occasionally had to practice our forms “tournament style” in which we simulated tournament competition. We would introduce ourselves to the group and perform our forms individually. At first I dreaded it. My heart would race and my breathing would quicken just before it was my turn. And then, I would hold my breath during the form. My face would turn as red as a baboon’s bottom! I was afraid of making a mistake and looking stupid. I knew that even my best performance was a far cry from perfection. Over time it became easier. After a few months, I was hardly nervous at all when we did “tournament style.” Part of the reason was repetition—of being regularly exposed to that which caused fear. The other part was the inner and outer games I played with myself to manage that fear. Many of the same techniques can be applied to managing the fear of public speaking.
Next week: The Inner Game of Managing Your Public Speaking Fear