Monday, October 29, 2007

Public Speaking and Anxiety

A major problem for those who aren't practiced at public speaking is the anxiety evoked by standing up in front of people to talk. I know how debilitating this can be because I suffered from it myself when I first started teaching. Unfortunately, I don't know an easy way to overcome this anxiety. There aren't any magic words to make the fear go away. However, there are some things that can help.

1. Avoid drinking a lot of caffeinated beverages before you talk. Yes, you need to be alert, but fear will probably do that for you anyway. Caffeine is a stimulant. In some people, even low doses of caffeine can actually create anxiety and even trigger panic attacks, especially when taken in association with an already anxiety producing event. Almost everyone who takes high doses of caffeine will increase their anxiety levels. Don't make yourself more nervous.

2. It's less anxiety provoking to talk about facts than opinions. Part of a speaker's anxiety will be the fear of being wrong, of making a mistake. Facts can be memorized and one can site supporting documents for them. That makes them hard to argue with. Opinions are easy to argue with. Everyone's got one. So, make as much of your talk factual as possible.

3. Practice, practice, practice. The more you prepare, the more you can knock your presentation out while half asleep, the less anxiety you'll feel.

4. It's good speaking practice to make eye contact with the entire group that you're talking to. However, early in your speaking career, you may need to find one or two supportive people to keep looking back to. You know, the folks who smile encouragingly when you make eye contact. If possible, why not salt your audience with a person or two who will offer such support and encouragement. I know that I like to have a few friends in the audience when I talk, although it's not always possible to do so.

5. Prioritize your presentation. People who teach you how to speak will tell you many things that you should do. Trying to remember all those different things can be intimidating. Keep in mind that your actual "talk" is priority number 1. You need to speak clearly and loud enough to be heard so that your information will be conveyed. A second priority is making a connection with the audience through eye contact, gestures, and smiles. Whether you have good posture or not, or whether you stand still at the podium, are lower level priorities. Don't let worry about those issues interfere with the more important elements.

6. Deep breaths and relaxation before you talk. Do things that normally help you combat anxiety.

7. Time passers. If you need a moment to think, a moment to remember where you are in your talk, have a glass of water handy to sip from. The audience will give you the time you need. Just don't stand there and hem and haw

8. Finally, if all else fails remember that it'll be over soon, that you'll still be alive, that the sun will rise, the earth will turn, and somebody somewhere thinks you're OK.

20 comments:

SQT said...

I'm kind of weird. I find it much easier to speak in front of adults than kids. I think it's because adults will at least try to appear interested but kids will show you how boring they really think you are.

Sidney said...

I find it easier to talk to a group of strangers than to people I know.

I went to a seminar on Photoshop where the lecturer was powered by Red Bull. He said he'd done one conference where he would wind down as the Red Bull wore off.

Charles Gramlich said...

Sqt, I find it a lot easier to talk to kids, but you're right about them being more honest.

Sid, it depends on the people. If it's friends, I find it easier to talk to them. But if it's aquaintences then yes, it can be harder, especially if it's people you work with.

Bernita said...

I agree, friends are easy, acquaintances are hard.
But in general people are pretty polite and even forgiving.
I suppose the biggest thing is to remember it's not the end of the world,your life or your career if you screw up something.
Charles, do you have any tips for dealing with the odd heckler/smart ass?

Ello said...

Very interesting and good pointers! I think it is really important to have a glass of water nearby because it is amazing how parched you are. Also, no matter how cold the auditorium is, if you are talking, you won't feel the cold, the adrenaline keeps you warm. That's another thing I noticed. And the last point to say is no how to handle the naysayers. There is usually one annoying person who is not quite a heckler but is a know it all that wants to assert their opinions on you and the others. Handling him or her wisely will help your status with the group.

Ello said...

Very interesting and good pointers! I think it is really important to have a glass of water nearby because it is amazing how parched you are. Also, no matter how cold the auditorium is, if you are talking, you won't feel the cold, the adrenaline keeps you warm. That's another thing I noticed. And the last point to say is no how to handle the naysayers. There is usually one annoying person who is not quite a heckler but is a know it all that wants to assert their opinions on you and the others. Handling him or her wisely will help your status with the group.

Ello said...

Bernita, must have posted right as I was! And how interesting that she asked about annoying people also. I think you have to be calm, listen to what they say intelligently, compliment them a little while smoothly going back on point to your speech. If that doesn't work, turning it into a deprecating joke on yourself to get the audience to laugh with you helps.

December/Stacia said...

Public speaking never bothered me--I was in plays, I was a debater--but I find as I get older it does get a bit more nerve-wracking. Mostly because I hate my voice.

Church Lady said...

These are great pointers!
However, I think I would photocopy a bunch of handouts, and ask the participants to take turns reading.
:-)

Shauna Roberts said...

When I get nervous, my throat closes up and I croak and cough. That problem really made me anxious about speaking in public until I heard a great tip: Swallowing forces your throat to relax, so if you take some sips of water before you start talking, your throat will be open and your voice will come out. I've used that trick for years and it's always worked.

As for strangers vs. friends, I prefer talking in front of strangers. If I make an idiot of myself, it doesn't matter because I won't ever see them again (I hope).

Travis said...

I like #8. I tell myself that so often at work. Nobody died today because I didn't get that order shipped.

Erik Donald France said...

#8 especially!

The most acute anxiety I've experienced in front of a crowd was when a loony boss brought his hounds into the audience and stared at everybody glaring while his dogs wondered around. It was distracting, to say the least.

Josie said...

I had to give a speech once to a room full of lawyers. I was petrified. I barely remember my time at the podium, it was just a blue. I thought I had made a total fool of myself. Afterwards everyone came up to me and congratulated me and said I was a "natural" and that I looked really calm and poised. Little did they know...!

Josie said...

I meant it was just a blur... but you knew that. Proofread, proofread, proofread. :-)

SzélsőFa said...

whoo-hooo!
I'm done with my event, and apart from a small, but palpable excitedness on my part at the beginning it went all right. Everyone have seemed to have fun.
*wipes forehead*

SzélsőFa said...

Now, having read through I say: what a great collection of advice!

I've also noticed yesterday that while everyone was wearing big sweaters and even coats, I was comfortable in a turtleneck+skirt combination. Like Ello said, I did not feel the cold.
We had tea, and that came very, very handy for my throat.

The audience was made up of friends so it was easy, but for a while we had a visitor also.
When she had to leave (about after the 1st half of the evening) I was relieved :)

Charles Gramlich said...

Bernita, I start out by making light of it and then if it's consistent I say things like, "you and I need to talk" or "do you have some minutes after?" or things like that. I have been known to say: "I appreciate the comments but we do have limited time so I'm going to move on a bit quicker through this material." Fortunately I've never had a real asshole interrupt me. I've had know-it-all's at my talks, and people who try to guess out loud what you're about to say.

ello, good point. You definetely want the audience on your side, and they usually will be when folks are being obnoxious.

Stacia, I was too scared to be in anything public when I was young.

Church lady, handouts can be of use.

Shauna, a cup of water is a superb prop for many things. Strangers are easier than acquaintences, I agree. But friends are easiest of all to me.

Travis, lol. That's one reason I didn't become a medical doctor.

Erik, yes, I get distracted when the audience is distracted. I tend to talk louder, to bring their attention back to me.

Josie, sometimes going on "automatic pilot" works. I kind of liked " it was just a blue." Sounds literary. ;)

Szelsofa, glad it went well. Congrats. I always stay plenty warm while talking myself.

Travis Erwin said...

Great stuff as usual. Wish I had something to add, but I can't think of anything.

Danny Tagalog said...

This is a great summary that I'll come back to. Next year, presentations may be on the cards....

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