Bill told me that the thought of presenting put razor blades in his stomach and rubber bands around his chest. It was getting harder and harder to breath. I said, “Bill, your anxiety is normal, but you can actually desensitize yourself to it by just doing more and more presentations.” “How can I desensitize myself to public speaking,” he said, “when I’m too nervous to even get started?”
Bill was really uncomfortable with the idea – the stage fright, the freezing up, the loss for words. These terrible scenes just kept playing over and over again in his mind.
I said, “Billy, don’t worry. Absolutely everyone I know gets nervous before giving a speech. In fact, getting nervous just means you’re excited about what you’re about to do. Let’s channel that excitement into a great performance! Just like when you exercise, you have to start with the small weights and work your way up. Try these exercises on for size.”
1. Practice in front of a mirror
Once you’ve written your presentation and you know it like the back of your hand, try “performing” it for yourself in front of a mirror. You can work on your posture, your hand gestures and your general body language. Try to be expressive in a style that’s natural for you and that supports your message.
2. Record yourself
Almost every smartphone on the market has a voice recorder app that you can use. Most people are blown away when they hear their own recorded voice for the first time. Listen to your intonation, enunciation, and watch for your use of crutch words. Try recording yourself from the other end of the room. How well does your voice carry?
3. Video yourself
The next obvious step in your exercise challenge is to record yourself with video. Again, record yourself from across the room. Does your voice carry well? Do you fidget or move around unnecessarily? How natural and confident is your body language?
4. Take your dogs out for a walk
This is a technique suggested by Seth Godin. If you’re not yet confident enough to practice in front of real people, try rehearsing your speech to a canine audience. They will always be supportive.
5. Practice for a friend (or a group of friends)
At this point, you should be getting used to hearing yourself speak out loud from somebody else’s perspective. Time to call in a favour from some of your better friends. Give them a few items you’d like feedback on: are you more concerned with structural flow, or your use of humour? Is there anything else you haven’t considered yet? Ask for honest feedback.
6. Hire someone from Craigslist to come to your office and be your audience
This is another “outside the box” tip from Seth Godin. At this point, you’re almost ready to go, but you’re still not sure about presenting to a public audience. Seth suggests posting an ad to Craigslist and offering some form of financial compensation for real feedback in a business setting. (Personally, I’d be more uncomfortable with having a Craigslist stranger come into my office than doing any form of public speaking, but maybe this tip will appeal to somebody out there.)
7. Join Toastmasters
As a longstanding member and former President of Laurier Toastmasters, I can safely say that joining Toastmasters is the most effective way to desensitize yourself to public speaking anxiety. The Toastmaster mission to promote communication and leadership skills in a supportive environment makes it the perfect place to hone your new skills and receive constructive feedback.
Some people are so afraid of public speaking that they believe they will never be comfortable doing presentations in front of a live audience. However, by starting off small and working your way up, you can desensitize yourself to this feeling of anxiety and channel any residual nervousness you might feel into a supercharged performance!