Popular research suggests that the fear of public speaking tops the fear of death for most Americans. So as Jerry Seinfeld jokes, “If going to a funeral, you’re better off in the coffin than giving the eulogy.”
While my generation may recall the episode of “The Brady Bunch” when Mr. Brady advises Jan to visualize the audience in their underwear to ease her anxiety of public speaking, that trick never worked for me. Here are some that have:
- When stepping on stage (heart-pounding in your throat) begin your presentation with an easy, engaging question for the audience. Without a release, the feeling of anxiety you are experiencing at the start will continue to build. By shifting the focus off of you for a few moments while the audience responds to your question, you get time to compose yourself. If it is a very large group, just ask a question that prompts a show of hands. This small break can give you time to take a breath.
- Find allies in the audience. These are people who smile, nod, make eye contact and are engaged in your presentation. Focusing on these people will boost your confidence throughout the speech.
- Focus on what you come to offer, not what you believe the expectations of the audience are. When you worry about what the audience will take away, you lose your power. You have little control over what they will find to be funny, useful, or engaging. Whether you are Oprah or Obama, you cannot control what people take, only what you have to give.
And remember, in any area in life, when you worry less about making mistakes, you automatically make fewer of them. Happy speaking!