Stage fright bothering you and impacting your career? Here's a powerful 5-minute technique to calm your fear of public speaking.
Every week, I hear from people all over the world who have fear of public speaking. Many ask for advice. And all describe the anxiety, self-consciousness, and physical sensations that accompany stage fright.
Overcoming this painful form of anxiety is the reason I created the Fearless Speaking Course in 2001. It's also why I wrote Fearless Speaking, with 50 ways to conquer stage fright! In 2019, the book was named as One of the 100 Best Confidence Books of All Time. Click here or on the book image below to learn more about how you can banish speech anxiety forever!
Improve Your Performance to Banish Stage Fright
It's well known that stage fright is one of the most prevalent forms of social anxiety, affecting speakers at all levels of influence. People struggle with overcoming it for a particular reason: because it involves performance, not just knowledge. Even cognitive restructuring, an approach I deeply believe in, leaves out the performative aspect.
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What is needed is an approach that makes on-stage performance central to banishing stage fright. That means an approach that addresses body language, physical symptoms, focus and presence, and the ability to be comfortable and receptive in the presence of an audience. That's the approach I take in my coaching program, and in my book.
Fear of Public Speaking Is High on People's Lists
It never fails: When polled, Americans put public speaking high on their list of greatest fears. It's always up there with flying, snakes and spiders, heights—and these days, identity theft and government surveillance. Eliminating fear of public speaking, in other words, is a sentiment nearly everyone can relate to.
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My coaching practice has worked with thousands of executives worldwide, and the fear of getting up in front of a group causes anxiety in many of them. It's an experience shared by literally millions of people worldwide every day.
Stage fright is a complex response made up of various factors, and differs in its manifestation from person to person. It may include fear of sounding incompetent, of making a mistake, of not being interesting, of being unable to adequately answer a question, and many others reactions. All this fear often has a way of coming to a paralyzing climax right before you get up in front of others, or when you actually begin speaking.
Did you know that breathing is a great tool to help you get calm and centered? Learn more in my Free download, "How Breathing Can Help Control Your Fear of Public Speaking."
How to Calm Your Nerves Before Speaking
Obviously, you need to counter the anxiety response. For your speech to be effective, you must find a way to calm your nerves before speaking. If you can't begin in a state of total mellowness, you need at least to show control. That kind of focus creates confidence in you among listeners. And of course, when you see that, you get more confident!
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Below is an exercise that's custom-made to allow all of that to happen. It's a way to achieve sufficient relaxation and calmness that takes just five minutes. Yes, you can actually learn to relax in that amount of time! Once you master the technique, you can do it easily, even at a moment's notice, which is actually when you'll need it most.
1. Find a quiet place (if all else fails, a stall in a bathroom near where you'll be speaking will do). Sit in a relaxed position with your feet flat on the floor.
2. Close your eyes to block out distractions.
3. Listen to your breathing for a full minute. Feel the way your breath nourishes and sustains you. Experience the breath flowing down your throat and filling your lungs, bringing oxygen to every cell in your body.
4. Now, with your eyes still closed, focus on a visual image in your mind. The image should be a simple colored shape—a green circle, a yellow square, a blue triangle, etc. Choose an object that doesn't have emotional overtones for you, and avoid red as a color.
5. See that object with as much clarity as you can. This will take real, sustained concentration. And in fact, you may have to do the exercise a few times before you can succeed at it. As you're imagining your object, thoughts, other images, and feelings will arise in your mind. Notice them briefly, but let them go gently on their way. Keep a calm, persistent focus on your image.
Your breathing will become slower and deeper. This is what you're aiming for: you're now in more of a state of mindfulness. When you're ready, open your eyes, and slowly stand. Try to maintain this level of calmness and relaxed breathing.
That's it. This simple exercise allows you to calm yourself and focus your attention—two critical attributes of eliminating public speaking anxiety. Practice it, enjoy it, and use it as a convenient tool for more controlled and confident presentations.
This article was originally published in 2011. It is updated here.
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Gary Genard is an actor, author, and expert in public speaking training and overcoming speaking fear. His company, The Genard Method offers live 1:1 executive coaching and corporate group training worldwide. In 2022 for the ninth consecutive year, Gary has been ranked by Global Gurus as One of the World’s Top 30 Communication Professionals. He is the author of the Amazon Best-Seller How to Give a Speech. His second book, Fearless Speaking, was named in 2019 as "One of the 100 Best Confidence Books of All Time." His handbook for presenting in videoconferences, Speaking Virtually offers strategies and tools for developing virtual presence in online meetings. His latest book is Speak for Leadership: An Executive Speech Coach's Secrets for Developing Leadership Presence. Contact Gary here.