In a survey seeking to identify people's phobias, 41% of all respondents reported public speaking as their most significant fear; fear of death ranked only sixth! Another study found that more than 80% of the population feels anxious when they speak to an audience.
Nervousness about speaking in public is not uncommon. John F. Kennedy and Winston Churchill, both considered great orators, were extremely fearful of speaking in public.
People who articulate well, both privately and in front of a group, are generally perceived to be more intelligent and to possess greater leadership qualities. Being able to speak effectively is important whether the intent is to ask for a raise or persuade an individual or company to take a specific action. Effective speaking skills can be especially valuable when you are called on to make an unexpected presentation. Such a situation can be nerve-racking, unpleasant, and potentially disastrous - or at least embarrassing! If you occupy any type of leadership position in any organization, sooner or later such an occasion will arise. That's when preparation and pre-learned skills will come to the rescue and enable you to turn surprise to your advantage. Confidence and effectiveness in front of a group are huge assets.
How do we overcome this anxiety?
First, we need to understand that nervousness is rooted in psychological stress (fear of failure) that manifests itself in physical symptoms (fast pulse, shallow breathing, dry mouth, sweaty palms, sick stomach, strange voice, and jittery knees).
Another important fact is that the feeling of apprehension is not all bad; anxiety can be useful. Extra adrenaline, increased blood flow and other physical changes caused by anxiety improve energy levels and this enables you to function better than you might otherwise. Your heightened state of readiness can actually help you to speak better.
You can benefit from learning some positive approaches that will allow your nervousness to work for you. Here are some tips to help you fight nervousness.
Be prepared. The single best way to fight nervousness is to be well prepared. If you're well prepared, and still feel nervous, your preparation will help reduce your nervousness once you begin to speak. Prepare, and then rehearse, rehearse and rehearse!! Understand your audience wants you to succeed!
Know your audience. The more you can anticipate the kind of reaction your listeners will have to your speech, the more comfortable you will be delivering your message.
Visualize your success. Imagine yourself giving your speech, picture yourself walking confidently to the front and delivering your speech in a confident, controlled, calm manner.
Use deep breathing. One of the symptoms of nervousness is change in your breathing and heart rates. Nervous speakers need to take short, shallow breaths, to help break the anxiety-induced breathing pattern, take a few slow deep breaths, before you rise to speak. Also try to relax your entire body.
Act calm to feel calm. Evidence suggests that you can bring on certain emotions by behaving as if you were feeling them. If you wish to feel greater calmness, behave in a calm way. Give yourself extra time top to arrive so you won't have to rush. Try not to fidget as you wait. Walk forward as though you were calm and collected.
Focus on your message rather than on your fear. The more you think that you are anxious
about speaking, the more you will increase your level of anxiety. Think about what you are going to say instead.
Seek speaking opportunities. The more experience you gain as a public speaker, the less nervous you will feel.