So I got to first speak to a group of music industry professionals about website fundamentals while at Summer NAMM a few years back. Public speaking was something I’d been interested in for a while, but I have significant anxiety that kept me from pursuing it. I finally decided to face my fear and sign up for a speaking session at NAMM and it ended up being a great experience. Actually, it felt amazing to stand up on stage and deliver my speech to 100 or so people. For anyone out there who shares my fears, here are 5 Tips For Fearless Public Speaking, compiled from advice from friends, family, counseling and other readings that were helpful for me.
Preparation And Practice: This one is fairly obvious. For me, it meant:
– Putting together my PowerPoint weeks in advance and rehearsing many times.
– Timing myself to be sure I could fit my content into the 30 minutes I was allotted.
– Practicing in front of several different people to get feedback on what points to drive home, where to include more concrete examples, what parts of the humor were working or not working, and what needed to be cut for time and flow.
This point is the most fundamental and necessary for any speaking engagement, especially if you are worried about having anxiety during a presentation. If your brain has developed a pathway for your presentation, once you’re on stage you can find your way onto that path and you’ll be fine.
Positive Imagery: In the days and weeks leading up to my session, I was encouraged to envision a positive experience, specifically at the beginning and end of my talk. Imagining the audience clapping and being satisfied and grateful for my talk was a helpful way to remind myself that the content I was going to deliver would be beneficial for them.
Handling Anxiety When It Comes: This was a strange one at first, but super helpful once I gave it a try. When I noticed anxious thoughts and the feelings that come with them, I was encouraged to say (out loud) “Hello anxiety, I know you are here. I feel you. I know you can’t really hurt me. I also know that you won’t stay for long.” This allows the anxiety to pass through quickly – like a short rain shower. It is when I try to ignore it, push through, or suppress it that it grows into a storm that stays around longer.
Friendly Audience: Simply reminding myself that the crowd wants me to do a good job was very helpful. The anxious mind says things like, “if I freeze, they will laugh at me,” or “they are all judging me and will be disappointed with my talk.” It is super important to replace these negative thoughts with positive (and TRUE) thoughts that the audience I am presenting to really does want me to do well. It only helps them more if I do well. They are pulling for you!
Debunking the Worst Case Scenario: What is your biggest fear? Play it out all the way. For me, I have a (recognizably) illogical fear of passing out in front of a crowd. I have no idea where it came from, or what supports it, because I have never actually done it. And yet, it pops up in my psyche any time I have to present or perform in front of a crowd. My counselor asks me, “So what happens if you do actually pass out? What is the fear there?” I respond, “I guess people laughing at me, or thinking I’m weak, or afraid, and then I don’t ever try to get up and do it again.” His response … “So?” Yeah, so what? What if that really did happen and the worst case scenario came true? I realized it wasn’t THAT bad … I would still have a successful business, a loving family, people who care about and respect me. All of the good things in my life would still be true. Plus, the truth (which is the enemy of anxiety by the way) is that if I did in fact pass out, most of the people in the audience would be more concerned with my well-being than anything else. Sure, it would be embarrassing, but I would be physically okay, and no self-respecting adult (other than my close friends) would actually laugh at me.
So all of these thoughts went through my head in the days and hours leading up to that talk. I didn’t know what those final moments would feel like, or what it would actually be like to stand on that stage with the microphone and PowerPoint slide advancer. I didn’t know if I would be able to walk up on that stage, place one foot in front of the other, face the crowd and make eye contact with the people sitting there looking back at me. So I prayed. I asked God to give me strength and to help me get over my fear, because I knew that the information I was about to deliver would help these people make a better website for their business, which would help their profitability, their team, their family, and the entire industry in some small (or big) way.
And I survived! I didn’t pass out. I got through my speech and I hit all the topics I wanted to touch on. It made me more excited than ever to do it again. And each time that I have, I have become more and more comfortable. Just like in lessons, practice does make perfect!