Fear of public speaking and social anxiety surpasses spiders, heights, and even death in some surveys. The anxiety associated with being in person in front of a crowd or on Zoom delivering a speech is a universal experience, but not everyone tackles the fear in conventional ways. Since I started my public speaking coaching practice five years ago, I’ve been collecting wacky, unusual techniques that experienced speakers and performers use to tame the butterflies in their stomachs.
Let’s get something clear. Everyone gets nervous before speaking in public. The difference is how you handle it. Many pros have learned to turn nerves into excitement that energizes their presentations. The once popular but silly idea of imagining your audience naked in their seats demeans them when you should be respecting and valuing their attention.
In my case, I practiced hard to overcome stuttering and panic during my college years by doing live radio. The thought of speaking into a microphone so thousands of people could hear jolted me into a terrifying awareness that my performance meant “life or death.” It worked. Years later when I did live commentary on the MSNBC cable network, I approached the red tally light on the camera with a similar defiance. It did help that I couldn’t see the audience watching the broadcast and after a while, live TV became second nature.
Meditation, affirmations, and yoga poses may be considered traditional. If those don’t work, people may seek unique and unconventional ways to relax before facing the spotlight. Here are some quirky and unexpected relaxation and focusing methods people have incorporated into their pre-speech routines.
A good laugh engages diaphragmic breathing, i.e. a belly laugh. Laughing triggers the neurons of happiness in your brain and makes you feel alert and excited. Listening to your favorite comedian or watching a clip from a funny movie helps to release tension and create a more relaxed atmosphere. Laughter, after all, is an excellent antidote to fear.
Jumping on a trampoline may seem like child’s play, but it’s an effective way to release built-up tension and nervous energy. Some individuals find that a few minutes of bouncing on a trampoline provides a quick and enjoyable physical outlet, promoting a sense of relaxation and readiness. Motivational guru Tony Robbins makes sure to have a trampoline at every event so he can get fired up before going on stage.
Smell peppermint and lavender
Peppermint is one of the essences used in aromatherapy. There is evidence that inhaling peppermint oil reduces anxiety. Plus, the menthol in peppermint works as a decongestant to clear your nasal passages and loosen mucus that can affect your voice quality. Lavender is another popular aromatherapy oil with health benefits. It has a sweet floral scent and can act as a sedative to lessen feelings of stress or anxiety.
Singing as practice
Turning a speech into a song as a pre-speech practice might sound unusual, but for some, it’s an effective way to overcome public speaking anxiety. The rhythmic and melodic nature of singing can add an element of fun to rehearsals, prep the voice to project better, and promote deep breathing. If you understand that voice = breath = energy, you get the picture.
Create a fear playlist
Music is an effective antidote to rattled nerves. You can choose songs that calm or energize you. If you want to get pumped up, curate a playlist that boosts your mood and creates a positive association with the performance. A former colleague at Univision network would listen to Freddie Mercury’s “We Are the Champions” before going on-air every day. For years, Scott Lesnick, motivational leadership keynote speaker, has played the same song privately for 15 to 20 minutes before he is introduced on stage. He says it serves as a reminder that his presentation is all about the participants, not about him.
Straw breathing and balloons
If done correctly, breathwork has immense health benefits. Breathing exercises can be practiced to invigorate or to calm. Straw breathing, that is, breathing out through a straw while making humming sounds, helps to tone the vocal folds, work the lungs, and soothe the mind with every burst of exhaled air. Top keynote speaker Will Bowen told me he relaxes by pretending to blow up a very large and tight balloon. The forced, restricted outbreaths quiet the mind and relax the body.
Rub your fingers together
Nicole Van Valen, president and founder of Keane Insights and professional speaker, offers this simple hack when you’re suffering from anxiety. Try rubbing your thumb and forefinger together in slow circular movements. The repetitive movement releases nervous energy and helps bring your attention to the present moment.
Rubber band snapping
Wear a rubber band on your wrist and give it a gentle snap when you start feeling anxious. The mild discomfort can serve as a distraction, redirecting your focus away from fear and promoting a more grounded and present mindset.
Doing a headstand backstage may be a bit over the top, but downing a shot of vodka may be a quick fix you will later regret. It happened to a friend who struggled to finish his speech without slurring.
Remember, everyone is different, and finding the right approach to manage stage fright is a personal journey. Experiment with these unconventional techniques, and you might discover your own method that works wonders for you on any stage.