If you think about it, a great speech is less about having good content, and more about how you deliver it. Even with the most motivational words on your hands, you can easily fail the audience if you don’t know how to engage them. On the other hand, with a really bad topic, you still have the possibility of delivering a fantastic speech.
For most people, the fear of public speaking is really just the fear of messing up. They get anxious by the idea of giving a spontaneous speech because they might not be able to come up with interesting content fast enough. They also believe that at on-the-spot speeches, they have a higher chance of messing up because they don’t have any preparation. And naturally, nobody wants to embarrass themselves in front of a huge crowd.
But here’s the thing; your content is the least important factor in your public speaking skills. So yes, you’ve been afraid of making bad jokes or stuttering your way through, for no good reason. But there are other, more important things that also need to be understood to overcome your public speaking phobia.
Fight Or Flight
When you become anxious, your body becomes alert to face any kind of threat. There are two ways of facing danger. You either face it or you escape it, hence your body composes a ‘fight or flight’ stance. Your body doesn’t understand that there’s a huge difference between a possible kidnapping or going up for show-and-tell. If they are both things that you fear, your body will respond to them in the same way. At the time of a speech, if you’re afraid of going up on that podium, your brain will tempt you to run away. ‘Flight’ is easier than fighting.
What you need to tell your brain is that the two situations are extremely different and when it comes to public speaking, the only option is to face it. Once your brain comprehends this difference and assumes a ‘fighting’ position, you will feel much steadier and composed.
In the context of public speaking, flirting is associated with silliness and humor. Try starting a speech with a joke or pretend to trip on your way to the front and say, ‘Sorry, I’m kinda clumsy.’ You can also use impersonations, gestures and or just memes to bring some humor into your speech. When you put yourself in a playful mood, you’ll automatically feel lighter. Rigidity keeps your muscles tensed and your nerves alert. You don’t want to sweat your forehead off in front of 500 people, either. So play with your hair a little, pass funny comments on people in the crowd. Anything that can make a baby laugh will also help you calm your nerves.
This is the fourth ‘F’ of public speaking. After Fight or Flight, and Flirting comes Freezing. The fear of public speaking might make your body go into the shutdown mode. There are ways to ‘unfreeze’ yourself and they’re actually pretty simple. When you freeze, your posture might become stiff, you could become tongue-tied or you’ll open your eyes wider. To relax all of these muscular responses, you need to find ways of making them move. Take a sip of water, check your notes, look around to exchange some eye contact or run your hand through your hair. These are all ways to counter rigidity caused by the fear of public speaking.
The easiest way to calm your nerves is to breathe with concentration. Count your breaths and deeply inhale/exhale. Putting some extra oxygen in your body will help it relax. Focusing on your breathing will also collect your attention and you won’t be super aware of your surroundings. This will make your demeanor comfortable and a little loose, making you feel casual about public speaking.
There are a lot of body language mistakes people make out of fear when they are up on stage. These only make them more anxious about their position.
- Not smiling or smiling too much, especially through negative/sad content.
- Standing stiffly, or upright.
- Folding your arms, or holding them behind your back.
- Not moving at all.
- Putting your hands in your pockets.
To avoid all of the above-mentioned mistakes, look at their counterparts that you can use:
- Remember to smile when you greet the audience, make a joke or engage with them. This will help you balance your mood and make you feel natural.
- Don’t slouch, but loosen up a bit before you go up on stage. Maybe stretch your limbs and your neck.
- Keep your hands down by your sides, in a neutral position. It will feel a little awkward but the weight will help you compose yourself.
- Use open-handed gestures to elaborate on something or to address someone specifically in the crowd.
- Practice pacing slowly from one place to another every few minutes. Partition your speech, and every checkpoint, make some movement.
- Hold something if you have a habit of fidgeting. You can make flash cards in the form of notes, or just hold a pen.