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‹ View all articles 31st October 2012

How to wake up from presentation anxiety nightmares

Delivering a Talk

Public speaking and presentation 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.

Fear = adrenaline 

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 apositive 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 = normal

Presentation 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 normal.

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 presentation 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.

Fear = possible to change

If you've decided you'd like to wake up from your presentation anxiety nightmare, there are various fear fighting strategies to chose from. Here's one of my favourite ones to get you started:

Presentation Anxiety Busting Strategy: Servant Speaking

Fearless speakers counteract presentation anxiety by focusing more on the audience needs than their own nerves. They become Servant Speakers.

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.

 

Presentation anxiety will decrease 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. So, challenge the nightmare of presentation anxiety. Start dreaming of rainbows and unicorns and happy audiences applauding. Well maybe not the unicorn bit... happy audiences should do the trick.

 

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