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  • Writer's pictureDrDavanaPilczuk

Overcome Fear of Public Speaking

When it comes to public speaking, Jerry Seinfeld said it best. “According to most studies, people’s No. 1 fear is public speaking. No. 2 is death. Death is No. 2. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

I hate public speaking. It has to be the most unnatural, uncomfortable, intensely frightening thing we willingly do to ourselves. I would rather get a root canal than have to get up in front of hundreds of people and perform for 30 minutes.

And yet it’s what I do for a living. Every speech I give, I know I will die, yet oddly, it hasn’t happened. I’m guessing that you probably have a similar opinion of public speaking, so here are some tips to help you the next time you have to perform.

Victory pose

Amy Cuddy, assistant professor at the Harvard Business School, found that by changing our body posture, we can actually reduce the amount of adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormones) while simultaneously raising our testosterone levels (which makes you feel stronger).

By making the body bigger, such as raising our arms above our heads and spreading our feet apart (the typical victory pose), we can change our body’s chemistry, thus helping us feel more powerful. She recommends holding these large, open body poses for two minutes before performing, to feel an effect.

Move around

That nauseous, fainting, dizzy, sweaty, horrific feeling you get right before you go on stage is from a whole lot of adrenaline, and it can make us feel awful. However, science has found that the most gifted performers are often the most anxious, so take it as a genetic compliment that you feel terrible before going onstage.

To burn some of it off, move around. Go into the bathroom and do squats, jumps or anything that requires big movements. If you can run a flight of stairs beforehand, do that as well. Movement tends to burn up some of that excess adrenaline and also pumps blood back to your brain, which is good for those of us who get really lightheaded.

Play the ‘And Then...’ game

We tend to "catastrophize" when we get nervous or scared. What if I pass out in front of everyone? What if I forget what I’m saying and they laugh at me? OMG!!!

Yes, we tell ourselves some seriously crazy stuff when we get anxious and amazingly, we believe it. To calm down, walk yourself through the entire thought you’re having and answer your own questions. Here’s how you do it: What if I faint and fall off the stage? Well, then someone will come help me. And then the audience will probably be very worried and concerned for my well-being. And then I will eventually wake up, feel better and won’t have to finish the speech. And then I will get the day off from work and people will show me sympathy and feel sorry for me.

Follow through all those crazy thoughts so they don’t get the best of you. Find a trusted friend who can do this activity with you and can help you see the realistic versus the catastrophic scenario you’ve created in your head.

Finally, my good friend Walter Young gave me some performance advice regarding my next big speech. He said, “focus on why you’re there, not on how you feel.” What profound words.

Anxiety is about turning inward and over-analyzing our thoughts and feelings. Instead of focusing on the nausea and dizziness, remember what you came here to do. It was to teach, to entertain, to inspire and to do what you you’re good at. Someone saw something in you and wanted you to share that story with the rest of the world because they saw value in you and in your topic.

When you make the audience your focus, you stop focusing on you. Open your imagination to the possibility of this being something you will actually enjoy. And remember, if what you have to say reaches one single soul, changes one single mind or helps one person in need, then the butterflies were worth it. October 22, 2017

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