You know what it’s like. You have something to say to an audience, and you’re excited about the opportunity to do so.
Putting your content together hasn't been a problem, either. Now it’s time to give your talk. You look out at the audience . . . and suddenly you realize everyone is staring at you, waiting for you to say something meaningful!
(Did you know that even Abraham Lincoln suffered from stage fright? To find out how he dealt with his own jitters, read my blog, "Abraham Lincoln and Stage Fright: How to Overcome Fear of Public Speaking.")
When Speech Phobia Enters the Room
That first moment in front of an audience is usually when fear of public speaking—or debilitating nervousness—really hits home. Self-consciousness, the sense of exposure, the thought that people are judging you, all these things play a part in diminishing what should be an enjoyable experience for you and your audience.
If this is your situation, you need a way to get in the right frame of mind before you feel naked and vulnerable. All the pats on the back from co-workers, the pep talks you give yourself—and especially hearing “You’re nervous about public speaking? I can’t believe it!”—aren’t going to do you any good now.
What you may need more than those things is less concern with yourself and more with the job you're there to get done.
Fear of Public Speaking Requires the Right Frame of Mind
Does the connection between speech anxiety and too much self-focus seem hard to understand? If it does, just listen to these typical comments from stage fright sufferers concerning their experiences with speaking fear:
- “I could hear my voice shaking."
- "I thought I was going to go blank and forget my content.”
- “I had a panic attack just before I got up to speak.”
- “I lay awake for weeks worrying about an upcoming presentation.”
- “I could feel the sweat break out as we went around the table introducing ourselves.”
- “I wanted to run out of the room.”
- “I couldn’t see the audience—it was like I suddenly went blind!”
Did you notice how every one of those sentences began with the word “I”?
Where are the words “we,” “us,” or “our” to discuss what these speakers and their listeners were experiencing together? Think about it: the most important people in the room are being left out of the equation! So unintentionally or not, if you suffer from stage fright, you’re living in a world of narcissism.
(To be fully present for your listeners instead, take a look at my blog on achieving "Mindfulness: A Key Skill in Effective Public Speaking.")
Obviously, it’s time for a little tough love.
4 Tough Love Messages for Overcoming Speech Anxiety
Even though it’s not always the easiest thing in the world to accomplish, becoming less self-centered will feed your own success as a speaker. Take a look at these four tough love messages and you’ll understand why. Sure, these pieces of advice may be difficult to hear. But that's what "tough love" means: something that isn't always pleasant to hear, but is being said for your own good.
1. Get Over Yourself. You deserve praise for giving speeches and presentations in spite of nervousness. Still, if you're focusing on your mental and physical responses while speaking, you need to remind yourself that you’re the least important person in the room. Remember: your audience is at the center of the entire public speaking dynamic. You’re there to reach out to them, not to reach inward to yourself.
2. It Ain’t About You. Hey, what makes you think this audience is here because of you? They’re contributing their valuable time attending this event because they hope to get something out of it. Instead of being concerned about your own feelings, ask yourself if you’re meeting these people's needs.
3. People Don’t Care about You. That may sound harsh, but it’s true. People are always in a “What’s-in-it-for-me?” mode when they attend a talk, lecture, presentation, or speech. Chances are they aren’t paying attention to your nervousness or discomfort. In fact, they may not even notice it! And the odds are good that they don’t care about your looks either. They’re concerned instead with the information they’ll receive and anything you can say that will make their lives easier. All of this is good news for you as the presenter!
4. Be Professional. Finally, you have a professional responsibility to do your job by giving this speech or presentation. It’s what you’re being paid for, or at least receiving recognition for. So shut up and do it!
Yes, public speaking causes anxiety in lots of people, and you personally may not leap at the chance to speak in front a group. Still, you probably recognize the value of doing so.
You'll give people valuable information, and sometimes direction. You may even change their lives. To do any of those things, however, you need to speak in your own voice. Sometimes, a little tough love is all you need to point that voice in the right direction.
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