8 Ways to Overcome the YIKES! in Public Speaking

Public Speaking Got You Scared?

Surveys actually suggest that among phobias, including the fear of death, public speaking is the spooky monster that comes out on top.

When it’s time to stand up and speak, do you feel a surge of creepy, cold adrenaline? As though for a moment, a monster is bearing down on you? Chances are you do. It’s a human reaction to being the center of attention. Everyone is subject to scary, nervous energy when standing to speak.

Here’s a secret to help you outwit the monster. Harnessed adrenaline can be a very good thing, because it gives you a heightened platform of energy that elevates your power and performance. For members of the audience, your adrenaline kicks up the electricity in the room and their experience is more vivid.

Unfortunately, too often when we become the center of attention, adrenaline startles us as though it shouted BOO! We hesitate and become self-conscious. We stove-up and try to push down the sensation. We worry that we’re looking bad and being judged by the audience.We become winded, the mind goes blank and we perform poorly. These experiences reflect the negative stress of too much adrenaline pumping through our blood stream.

8 Ways to Overcome the Yikes! In Public Speaking
  1. Know your material inside and out. Submerge your psyche in it so you can be conversational. Use bullets but don’t rely on notes. If you memorize anything, memorize your opening lines so you can say them without thinking. This will help you push through the “adrenaline wall,” which happens in the first 30 seconds.
  2. Welcome Your MOJO. Watch for the adrenaline to show up and don’t let it surprise you. Determine how adrenaline manifests for you—butterflies, palpitations or racing thoughts—and begin to expect these symptoms as a natural prelude to speaking. As soon as the symptoms show up, say to yourself, “Oh, good. My MOJO is here!” It’s true! When you harness adrenaline, you command the room. Why would you want to resist this power? The challenge is not overcoming nervousness, it is turning fear into energy before you begin over-thinking the process.
  3. Breathe. Breathe slowly through your nose, from the diaphragm. Breath work is worthy of your attention. See “Breathing exercises” below.
  4. Engage one person at a time. Have a “mini conversation” with each person as your look about the room. This kind of audience connection helps you focus on your message. If you try to see the entire room it creates a surreal experience of speaking to no one.
  5. Move. A surge of adrenaline can be very uncomfortable if you are nailed to the floor. Disperse the extra energy by moving with purpose. If you’re in a big room, walk from one side to the other. This doesn’t mean you should stroll constantly. Take intentional steps and stop between steps long enough for folks to connect.
  6. Take control. Practice pulling yourself out of self-consciousness. When you feel yourself disconnect, gently focus and bring yourself back in to the room. Show up in your shoes and transmit your message to listeners. Say something directly to an individual in the group, as though you are the only two in the room. Tether yourself back into the moment. It takes practice but you can do it.
  7. Practice. If the idea fits, consider Toastmasters International for the sheer practice of getting on your feet. Successive successful experiences will give you command.
  8. Watch yourself on video. The rush of adrenaline does not mean you aren’t doing a good job. People generally don’t believe this until they see a video of themselves (which is why we include video in our training courses). It is amazing that the effects of this performance anxiety—this heightened energy—are hidden from the audience. As viewers and listeners we see only a fraction of the symptoms; and once you relax into a conversation, we don’t even remember them.

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Don’t miss what public speaking is all about. It’s a place to confront and outwit the monster (which is the erroneous idea about yourself); find your authentic voice; and become the communicator and hero you were meant to be.

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Avatar for Lou Solomon

Lou Solomon

Lou Solomon is the founder of Interact. She is a TEDx speaker and a member of the adjunct faculty at the McColl School of Business at Queens University of Charlotte. Her articles have appeared in Harvard Business Review, Entrepreneur.com, CEO.com, and Fast Company.