Public Speaking Anxiety: How to Manage It

public speaking tips Apr 28, 2021

As you can see from the title of this post that we are talking about presentation anxiety and not public speaking fear. Why? Because anxiety is really the emotion that plagues presenters rather than fear.

I’ve been coaching presenters for over a decade now and I can tell you with absolute confidence that most managers and executives are not fearful of their talk, they are anxious. Let me explain.

Fear vs Anxiety: The Difference

For starters, let’s address the difference between fear and anxiety. Fear is fear of an existing threat. If you have a knife to your back or a gun to your head, that is fear because there is a real and existing threat. Anxiety is worry about the unknown which is radically different. Worry is out of your control, and the unknown is out of your control. These two elements are the heart of anxiety so when thinking about that upcoming presentation, you are most likely wrestling with anxiety because you worry about whether people are going to like you and your message and their reaction is all unknown at this point. It’s a classic case study in the subject of anxiety.

Now, that we have established the difference between fear and anxiety and have acknowledged that anxiety is the primary culprit, let’s address how to overcome it.

How Do You Overcome Public Speaking Anxiety?

The good news is anxiety is a universal human emotion so whether you are an athlete, business person, parent, spouse, or in this case, a presenter - that are practical and common sense things you can do to manage anxiety or even eliminate it. Here are two items I would suggest and you can apply these in the conference room or basketball court. They’ll work for any arena.

Visualization

I’m a triathlete so I love to compete in Ironman and Half-Ironman events. If you are not familiar with the sport of triathlon it is a race consisting of three events: swimming, biking, and running. In the case of a full Ironman, race day can be long ranging from 8 hours to 17 hours depending on your level of athleticism. Given the complexity of the day whether there are so many variables - you have three athletic disciplines, the fourth discipline of managing your nutrition, weather, wind, weather temperatures, etc - it is absolute must to visualize the day.

I make it an absolute priority to arrive a few days early and drive the course. I even try to train on it if it is in driving distance. And, the night before I practice the exercise of visualization where I imagine myself swimming, biking, and running on the course. I think about how my body is going to feel. I imagine family and friends who have showed up to cheer me on. I think about how great it is going to feel when I cross the finish line. I go through all these visualizations to prep my hear and mind for the race day that awaits.

This same approach is necessary for public speaking. You have so many variables you are going to have to deal with the next day from technology to lighting to the layout of the room. You must take the time to visualize how you are going to be in front of the room, how the audience is going to react to you positively, and how it is going to look when you conclude your talk. By practicing visualization it will build your confidence and make you feel as though this is the second time you have given this talk making it easier and more effortless.

Breathing

Visualization is all about the mind. This next topic is all about your body and I’m going to use the Navy Seals to illustrate this point. If you can imagine their line of work, they find themselves in situations where anxiety abounds. They have to take out that terrorist or invade that building. Anxiety flourishes in a work environment with those conditions. In order to thrive in these situations, the Navy Seals practice a technique called 4x4 Breathing.

This breathing technique is about segment your breaths in 4 parts at 4 seconds each. I’ll walk you through it: Inhale and take 4 seconds to do it. At the top of your breath, wait for 4 seconds and now exhale and take 4 seconds to do so. Now, wait for another 4 seconds at the bottom of your breath. Rinse and repeat. This is a 4x4 breathing and it will lower your heart rate and calm you down making you less anxious.

Conclusion

Anxiety can derail the best presenters but if you practice these two mind and body tricks you can win the battle and even the war with public speaking anxiety. Don’t anxiety defeat all your hard work. You’ve invested a lot of time and energy to building that great talk - eliminate anxiety with these techniques so you can win on stage or in the conference room.

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