Glossophobia. It's not the fear of lip gloss, or glasses, or glossaries. Instead, it's the very, VERY common phobia that reportedly 75% of us struggle with in one way or another: the fear of public speaking. (And we all know the old stat about people being more afraid of speaking in public than, oh, actually dying.)
Even after hundreds of performances, professional actors (like yours truly) occasionally experience nerves before going on stage. But as the saying goes, "The show must go on!" The same, undoubtedly, holds for your public speaking engagements. If ¾ of us deal with this very real anxiety, what can we do about it? It's time to address the problem head on, and find solutions to help us cope with this crippling fear. And hey — maybe you'll even start to enjoy it! (We can dream, can't we??)
1. The Problem: I get sick to my stomach when I think about everything that could go wrong in a presentation. Too many intangibles! I get overwhelmed just thinking about it.
The Solution: Rehearse. Follow that with rehearsal. Then, rehearse some more. Preparation is the BEST way to combat stage fright. The more you rehearse, the more accustomed you are to your presentation and how it flows, the more comfortable you are with standing, moving, saying the words, the better you are going to feel. Rehearsal removes as many of the intangibles as possible ahead of time. Can things still go sideways on the day of? Of course. But you'll be so comfortable with your content and technology that you'll be able to deal far easier than you would've without rehearsing.
2. The Problem: I physically feel like I'm going to fall over before I present. My heart races, I'm nauseated, my mouth gets dry. Get me out of here!
The Solution: Yes, your body is having an adrenaline-inspired, fear-based reaction. The old "fight or flight" is kicking in. Breathe. Toxins build up in the body when you aren't breathing at a deep, regular rate that encourages the even exchange of Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide. Take a few core breaths: place your hand on your lower torso, and breathe deeply enough that you push your hand out with each breath. Or, bend at the waist, and imagine breathing into your hips (this is good to stretch and release tension, as well). Avoid simply raising and lowering your shoulders while breathing; that's called clavicular breathing, and it's not going to help. Breathe deep.
3. The Problem: I'm scared to death, and on top of that, I'm afraid everyone can tell. How can I communicate confidently when everyone can see how nervous I am?
The Solution: Embrace the unknown truth. This is going to be a bit radical: They. Can't. Tell. At least, not most of the time. And here's why: many of the symptoms you may be experiencing — racing heart, dry mouth, increased muscle tension — you may feel them, but your audience can't SEE them. Really. So, plant your feet in a strong stance, smile, and take heart knowing the secret is yours.
4. The Problem: My mind is a jumble of negativity before I step on stage. "I'm going to fail!" "What if they hate me?" "Oh geez — my BOSS is here!"
The Solution: Forge a new neural pathway. Sure, it can be hard to refocus your brain, and those well-worn neural pathways can be difficult to disrupt. If you tell yourself not to think about pink elephants, by default, you're going to think about pink elephants! Instead, set your thoughts on some of your good presentation skills training: get out of your own head and into theirs. Think about your Presentation Objectives — what do you want from your audience? What do you want them to DO? How will you get them to take action? Stop focusing on you, and start thinking about THEM.
We also suggest an even simpler brain-tamer: Do some quick tongue twisters before you go on. Not only will you warm up your vocal articulators (Learn more about professional communication skills and articulation...) you'll trick your mind into thinking about something else for a while. Now, won't THAT be a relief!
We spend $42 billion a YEAR dealing with anxieties and phobias. The fear is real! But, perhaps, it's time to say goodbye to public speaking anxiety — or at the very least, to learn how to DEAL with it. Want more tips? Read more on overcoming stage fright symptoms with some simple "salves."
When it comes to public speaking anxiety, do you feel the fear and do it anyway? Let us know how you've learned to cope in the comments below!
Don't forget, you can learn more about how acting secrets can transform your next presentation in our free eBook: