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Five Tips for Giving a Powerful Speech Despite Your Fears

Five Tips for Giving a Powerful Speech Despite Your Fears

If you have a fear of public speaking, you are not alone. The National Institute of Mental Health cites that public speaking anxiety, or glossophobia, affects about 73% of the population. Even if you don’t have a clinical phobia, it’s reported that a majority of people dread public speaking more than death.

For most of my life, I was in that category. I would do anything to not give a presentation or speech. It held me back professionally, so I became determined to overcome my fear and develop this critical skill for success.

When I participated in a TEDWomen event, I had a chance to talk with social-political activist Gloria Steinem. Gloria is nationally recognized as a leader and spokesperson for the American feminist movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

During our profound conversation, she disclosed to me that she too was terrified of public speaking. I was astonished but simultaneously comforted that someone who will be known throughout history as an extraordinary and seasoned presenter had the same fear as me.

I started to do some research and found quite a few high-profile individuals known for their ability to communicate and command an audience, also suffered from stage fright. Two key examples are Steve Jobs and Warren Buffet. These American business icons had to actively work hard to overcome severe anxiety of public speaking.

So why does this trepidation continue to be such a widespread and prevalent issue? It is thanks to a primitive part of our brain that is trying to protect us from perceived danger. When we focus on the potential negative consequences of messing up a presentation, our internal emergency response system, or "flight, fight or freeze response,” is triggered.

This reaction causes a surge in adrenaline, flooding the system with hormones to prepare the body for dealing with a threat. The byproduct of which includes symptoms such as a racing heart, sweaty palms, a dry mouth, a shaky voice and body, and a racing mind.

If this sounds familiar, here are five valuable tactics that can ensure you are at your best when it’s time to present to a large group or hit the stage.

1) Location memory technique.

One of the main reasons that a sense of fear is cultivated when facing the prospect of public speaking is the thought of forgetting your speech and being embarrassed in front of a crowd. Learning techniques to help you remember what you are presenting will boost your confidence and reduce stress.

One strategy that can help is based on the fact our brains were built for remembering locations. Your mind already has an association with your home, so it’s the perfect place for exercising the skill of memory and recall.

Here’s how it works: Take the images you created for all your bullet points and then deposit them on a tour of where you live in the order you’ll be presenting them. Once you do this, the only thing you would need to retrieve that information is to take a mental stroll through your home.

[Related: What 80 Innovation Leaders Say About the Power of Storytelling]

2) Create a ritual.

Humans are all innately creatures of habit, and we can use our inherent instincts to nurture an optimal state of mind. For example, if you have a ritual before you go to bed, your body will recognize that sleep is pending. By the time you lay down, your system is primed for rest. Moreover, rituals give us comfort and help the body and mind feel at ease in deference to times of uncertainty.

Therefore, you can consider employing rituals to help you prepare for a presentation by using them as triggers to invoke a peak emotional state. For example, play a chosen song every time you practice your speech. Then play it again the day of your talk to get your mind and body ready to give an amazing speech.

3) Get some exercise.

Exercise is a great way to releases any tension you may have in your body and get your endorphins pumping. Therefore, scheduling at least thirty minutes a day, especially on the day of your performance, will help you release some of the stress you may feel. Remember, it does not have to be an intensive workout. It can be a simple thirty-minute walk.

Also, speaking is a workout in itself. To be a great presenter, your body must be able to maintain a certain level of energy for the entire talk. It’s hard to end on a high note when you are physically out of steam.

[Related: How to Get Your Audience to See it Your Way]

4) Focus on your purpose.

For many, the most unsettling part of public speaking is within those few minutes before stepping on stage. One of the best things you can do to shift out of this state is to remind yourself why you are giving your speech.

Stop concentrating on your upcoming performance and focus on the difference you want to make and the key goal of your talk. By centering your attention on purpose and objective, all emphasis and focus will be on service and not on yourself.

5) Do a power pose.

Power poses can not only shift your state of mind, but they can also bolster you psychologically. For example, holding a power pose for 120 seconds has proven to be immensely effective.

Just 120 seconds can create a 20% increase in testosterone and a 25% decrease in the stress hormone cortisol. Therefore, if you want to feel more commanding and confident, the simple process of spending two minutes replicating a power pose can do the trick.

In reality, your mind is looking at your body posture to determine what it should feel. Therefore, you can fake confidence until you genuinely feel it.

Finally, always remember that feelings of anxiety and nervousness are entirely normal. You might not be able to dispel these emotions altogether, but using these tips can reduce discomfort and set you up for success. Over time and with practice, you may even discover that your biggest fear becomes one of your greatest sources of joy and accomplishment.

[Related: Three Public Speaking Fight Moves for Millennial Women in Male-Dominated Industries]

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Farrah Smith is a Director at one of the world's top environmental charities and is an esteemed member of Al Gore's Climate Reality Leadership Corps. She also owns Farrah Smith Coaching, where she teaches a transformational course that helps teens reach their full potential with an emphasis on mindfulness, neuroscience, and positive psychology.


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Community Discussion
Karen Timmons Brown

I will definitely incorporate these tips, suggestions and guidance into my public speaking.

June 5, 2021