Effective public speaking takes energy, focus, a positive mindset, knowledge of your topic and respect for your audience at a minimum. Everyone responds differently when tasked with presenting to one or thousands, doing a media interview or delivering a pitch.
Public speaking can tap into a viper’s nest of dread and despair when your self-esteem and vigor are depleted. What do you do if you’re feeling awful and can’t muster the willpower to overcome occasional negative thoughts, lethargy, sadness, and depression in all its manifestations? Do you default on the opportunity to speak, stay home, and pretend you tested positive for COVID-19, again? Or do you dig deep into your emotional and psychological reserves and soldier through?
It’s terrible to perform in front of people when your spirits are low. You suffer in silence because you don’t want them to know. Performance anxiety, also known as glossophobia, or plain-vanilla fear of public speaking, may be the reason you feel so glum.
More than 70 percent of the world’s population report some form of social anxiety when they must speak in front of others. Public speaking is said to be the biggest fear reported by many adults in the U.S., topping air travel, financial ruin, sickness, and death.
The signs are familiar to anyone who speaks in public often because even seasoned speakers experience jitters such as sweaty palms, butterflies in the stomach, and trembling hands. Glossophobia is surmountable, that is, unless you experience a crippling panic attack.
Years ago, I was consulting as a speaker coach for a makeup artist spokesman for a major cosmetics company that was venturing into Spanish-language media. The show was the legendary Sábado Gigante and the Latino makeup artist was making his national TV debut to introduce a new product line. Fortunately, the segments would be taped for later air because he was overwhelmed by fear and locked himself in the hotel bathroom for more than a day. I ended up appearing in the segments since I had also written the scripts.
I never witnessed a fit of panic like that again.
Over the years, I’ve had many moments when I felt like the glass was three-quarters empty before doing a presentation or appearing on a talk show. Here are eight ways I learned to manage these feelings and rise to the occasion:
1. Don’t try to make them go away.
Redirect your attention away from how you feel to what the audience needs to hear from you. Don’t force yourself to “snap out of it.” Shift the focus to your true purpose—contributing something of value to your audience. Put your ego on the shelf and place your attention on making them feel important.
2. Focus on your intention.
What do you want your audience to know, believe and act on? How will your talk transform the way they think about the topic and about themselves? Be clear on your intention and the value of your ideas. Think about how your audience will benefit from what you have to say.
3. Pretend you’re in the audience.
Picture yourself sitting in the audience looking at you with enthusiastic interest. The role reversal will help you step out of your mental shadow and see your role as speaker from a new and positive perspective.
4. Visualize success.
Create a mental picture of the conclusion of your talk. Hear the applause. Imagine people waiting to greet you, asking questions, and thanking you for the insights.
5. Leave the stress backstage.
Breath is central to relaxation. Practice the box breathing technique or another form of deep breathing that you can do quickly before you take the stage to relieve the stress and dark mood.
6. Make eye contact with happy looking people.
Scan the audience for people smiling, nodding, looking alert and engaged. Mirror their smiles and establish a connection that will transmit energy back to you. Smiles are contagious. Practice the pen-in- mouth exercise backstage to force a smile that will trigger the neurons of happiness in your brain.
7. Supercharge your delivery.
Be more animated than you normally would. Show positive emotion. Gesture and use body language to accentuate your ideas. Add more vocal variety than usual—enunciate, vary your volume and pitch, your rate of speech and insert strategic pauses.
8. Tell them how you feel.
But do it at the end of your presentation. Tell them how you felt at the start of your speech, about the apprehension and negative self-talk that made every step you took onto the stage feel like a muddy slog. Then thank them for the gift of attention they gave you and how their enthusiasm lifted the fog. The vulnerability and honesty you display are powerful connectors that will make the audience stick to you like glue.
Everyone has bad days, and, on those days, you may be called upon to speak in front of people who matter. Recognize and acknowledge your feelings, shift your attention, adopt an attitude of service, smile and return smiles from the audience. Even on dark days, be authentic and natural, be yourself.
Watch the YouTube companion video to this blog post and learn more about How to Speak when You are Feeling Blue.