Many people have a real fear of public speaking

Many people have a real fear of public speaking. The irony is that almost everyone is comfortable talking to one or two people at a time but when that number grows, anxiety sets in. That anxiety can cause major physical reactions including being short of breath, sweating, dry mouth, a sick feeling in the pit of the stomach and, in some cases, a sense of real panic.

This need not be so and anyone can learn to overcome the fear of public speaking easily. The person just needs to master five basic techniques to overcome the anxiety and then start to really enjoy communicating with other people in groups of all sizes.

The first technique is a physical one. When we get stressed we experience a sympathetic reaction or stress response. The opposite to this is the parasympathetic swing or relaxation response. The easiest way to trigger the parasympathetic response is through controlled breathing. Simply breathe in for a count of 3, hold your breath for a count of 1 and then breathe out for a count of 9. This will slow down your breathing and increase the flow of oxygen to your brain.

The second technique is mental rehearsal. Remember when you were really successful at talking effectively with one or more people. Relive that experience. Where were you? What did you see? What were your physical sensations, warm or cold? How did you feel inside? What sounds did you hear? By focusing on a time when you performed well you will put yourself in a positive mental state and counter the stress response mentally.

The third technique revolves about what we call cognitive behavioural management. Our beliefs about our ability to perform interpret things that happen to us and those interpretations lead to our thoughts, emotions and behaviours. The easiest way to address the negative thoughts is to focus on positive ones such as “I’m glad I’m here”. I’m glad the audience is here”, “I care about them benefiting from my talk” and “I’ve prepared myself properly with the content of the talk”.

The fourth technique is to imagine the person in the world who you think would be the most effective at giving this talk. Picture them in your mind off and up to the right of your view and see them deliver the talk. Then imagine you can float into their body and that you can then experience what it would be like to be in their shoes delivering the talk. The third stage is to imagine their body melting away leaving you delivering the talk in the most effective way. It really works!

Finally, ensure that you practice the technique of making eye contact with your audience. Many speakers let themselves down by portraying a lack of confidence by looking at the floor, the ceiling and anywhere else other than at their audience. Practice giving more eye contact to everyone you meet to desensitize you to the process. Then with your audience use the lazy -S technique. Look at someone in the front row to your left and gain eye contact. Then move your eyes to the right, then towards the back of the audience and to the left and so on to complete a large letter S. You can alternate by starting at the back and tracing your S forwards or even imagine that the S is reversed. It doesn’t much matter in which order you trace the S. What matters is that you enable everyone in the audience to feel that they have bonded with you through personal eye contact.

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