Public speaking and performance anxiety go hand in hand for many people. Nightmares like forgetting lines, botching PowerPoint slides, losing notes, or fumbling over words can wake some folks up in the middle of the night howling. The truth is, being a fearless public speaker isn’t about getting rid of your fear, nor is it about suppressing it.
It’s about transforming that fear into energy and excitement. Performance anxiety can be a tool to enhance your public speaking… if you hack it the right way.
Channel your fear into excitement!
Why does one person gravitate towards a bungee jump while another runs a mile? They have both attached emotions to the adrenaline rush caused by anticipating the jump. The person who is drawn towards the bungee jump is thinking “Ah, brilliant, that’s going to be such a rush”, whereas the person who is nervous, or frightened of it is focusing on all the things that could go wrong with the rope, the fall, the bounce and so on. They’re probably thinking of the girl whose bungee rope snapped (and luckily survived) and imagining that that could be them.
The first person is excited because they are looking at the event and anticipating a positive outcome.
The second person is anxious or terrified because they are anticipating a negative outcome.
The same goes for public speaking anxiety. What we call ‘fear’ is just adrenaline that’s being judged. Being fearLESS is not about less fear as such, but about changing the way you judge the adrenaline rush, from negative anticipation into positive anticipation. The idea is to channel that energy into your presentation and create a genuine passion to which an audience will respond.
Fearless public speaking, more than any other communication method known, has the capacity to change people on a profound level. ~ Sarah Lloyd Hughes
Fear is NORMAL.
Performance anxiety can cause major changes physically and mentally. Feeling panic, stress, or nerves can cause changes in your thinking. You may stumble over words or lose concentration. You may tremble, fidget, or play with your hands and you may breathe faster, feel your heart race, or have an upset stomach.
This is what is supposed to happen. Nerves show you that what you’re doing is important.
By simply understanding that these are common symptoms of public speaking fear, you can identify that they are completely natural. You don’t need to cause yourself extra anxiety because you’re feeling anxious. You don’t need to fear being afraid!
Truly almost every person who speaks in public experiences some performance anxiety before taking the stage, even professional speakers. What the seemingly confident and polished speakers have accomplished is expressing their fear in a different way. They’ve given up the nightmare.
You can use your nerves for good.
If you’ve decided you’d like to wake up from your performance anxiety nightmare, there are various fear fighting strategies to chose from.
Performance Anxiety Strategy: Servant Speaking
A servant speaker realizes that they are not the most important person in the room – they are there to service the audience.
This simple shift in perspective decreases presentation anxiety because you focus on more important things than yourself. When you only focus on yourself, you see only your own nerves, instead of the audience feedback which could very well show interest and acknowledgment. It’s a vicious cycle bordering on a self fulfilling prophecy; the more you focus on how nervous you are the more nervous you become.
As a servant speaker, look outside of you to the eager faces wanting to listen and you’ll find that your own nerves disappear in the process, because you’re not giving the negative thoughts any more attention. More on how negative thoughts might affect your speaking here.
Performance Anxiety Strategy: It’s all about authenticity.
Truly powerful public speaking starts not with 100% confident public speaking, but with talking from the heart.
Take Jamie Oliver’s TED Talk, for example; not the most confident public speaking ever (he walks around too much, flaps his notes and clearly looks nervous!), but a deeply powerful and deeply moving speech nonetheless.
Passion is what we remember about a speaker – not their confidence. Audiences are enthralled by delicious, humble, genuine, and emotional public speaking experiences, so if you really want to move your audience, that’s where you need to live as a speakers.
Performance Anxiety Strategy: Focus on your inner qualities.
Take a peek inward. I know, scary stuff. We compare our insides to everything outside. I have to be perfect, act perfect, look perfect, speak… perfectly. It’s truly an insurmountable mountain of malarkey we pile upon ourselves.
What’s wrong with showing up less than perfect? What’s the worst thing that could happen? That people will know you’re human? That you have bad days too? Maybe, just maybe, that will make others relate to you. Do you like people who paint on a mask? Then why should it be any different for those around YOU?
By focusing on your QUALITIES (not just behaviors) you can allow the real you to blossom when you speak. Read more about how to let your wonderful qualities shine through!
Performance Anxiety Strategy: Find something that’s more important than being liked
Confidence ‘no matter who likes me’ derives from finding something that’s more important to you than simply being liked. This is the mark of a truly powerful speaker and it derives from developing true authenticity in your speaking.
If you’re only public speaking for the ego trip of having an audience love you, you face the risk of being destroyed by a negative audience. In this case you have no choice but to worry more or less constantly about what the audience is thinking of you.
If, however, you switch your focus to a message you deeply believe in, it’s no longer important who feels uncomfortable or negative towards you on the way. Once you find something you believe in – something that goes beyond your desire to be loved – you will become bolder and more fearless than you thought possible.
You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.
Performance anxiety can become a useful tool when you learn to see yourself clearly and challenge your evaluation of potential negative consequences; decrease your self-focus; eliminate the tendency to ‘need to be perfect’; increase your positive self-talk; and reinforce a positive self-image around your speaking.
In the end, public speaking fears are maintained by you. The good news is since they are created by you they can also be CHANGED by you. You can turn that anxiety into passion and excitement, by flipping the way you feel about those butterflies in your stomach.
So, challenge the nightmare of performance anxiety. Start dreaming of rainbows and unicorns and happy audiences applauding. Well maybe not the unicorn bit… happy audiences should do the trick.