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Strategies for Confronting Your Fears when Speaking
 
 

Strategies for Confronting Your Fears when Speaking
In scientific terms, it is called the "fight or flight syndrome," and we all know it well: the racing heartbeat, the sweaty palms, and the feeling of heightened anxiety. In common parlance, many public speakers - both beginners and experienced orators - know this feeling as stage fright. The sudden release of the hormone adrenaline causes our body to prepare itself for quick responses and enables us to defend ourselves better.

It is not unusual to have stage fright. In fact, almost all speakers, even politicians who must speak in front of large crowds and television cameras on an almost daily basis experience some sort of stage fright. However, professional speakers know how to channel their anxiety and use this rush adrenaline to their advantage.

As difficult as it might be to believe, a recent survey reported that there are more people who fear public speaking than those who fear death! This fear of public speaking is mostly an anticipatory fear. Many speakers overcome their fear the moment they stand in front of a podium. It is the anticipation of their speech that causes them the most anxiety. In this chapter, we will examine some of the causes of stage fright, or performance anxiety, and we will learn methods to combat them.
Reasons for Stage Fright and Strategies to Combat Them
Fear 1. Fear of the Audience
The first, and most obvious, reason that most people have stage fright is because they fear their upcoming audience. Even if we have spoken to the same audience several times, we irrationally conclude that the audience wants us to fail or that they dislike us. The great irony is that virtually all audiences enjoy listening to a speech. They are present to be entertained or to be informed; in the majority of circumstances, they want to be present and they want you, the speaker, to succeed. When audiences detect some nervousness from the speaker, they are usually supportive and make a conscious effort to make the speaker feel more comfortable.

Strategies

Embrace your subject matter. Instead of thinking about how you are going to compare to the speaker before you or how you are going to be perceived as a speaker, concentrate on your subject matter. Get excited about it. Your enthusiasm will show and your speech will benefit enormously.

Realize that the audience is not your enemy. Get to know your audience before you arrive to deliver your speech. Do your homework. We will devote an entire chapter to this strategy because delivering a good speech is directly proportional to how well you know your audience. Remember that, in virtually all instances, your audience has sought you. They want to hear your speech because you are most likely speaking about a topic that interests them.

Remember that you are the expert. There is a reason why you were chosen to give the speech and not someone else; you are the expert. You know material that you are going to discuss. You might not have every word written down yet, but you instinctively know what you are going to say.

Think of the audience in a crazy, offbeat manner. Almost everyone who has prepared to give a speech has heard the old strategy of imagining the audience in their underwear. Well, guess what, it works. Famous politicians use this strategy frequently, in fact. Naturally, you will want to be careful not to pick a scenario that will make you hysterical on stage, but this strategy does relax many people.

Fear 2. Fear of Delivering a Bad Speech
The fear of delivering a poor speech, one that you think will bore an audience or worse, is a very potent fear, but it is actually the easiest fear to overcome. As we discussed when we examined the fear of your audience, you must remember that you are the expert. You know the subject matter. Thus, you have control over this fear.

Strategies

Research your speech. The more you know, the more comfortable you will be. Writing a good speech does not just mean fine tuning it so that it has excellent grammar and style, although both of these considerations are very important. A well written speech is one that has all the elements that your audience is seeking. They may seek information, in which case you must have all the facts. They may seek to be entertained, and that will require research as well, knowing local politics or events is often a treasure trove of humorous material.

Practice your speech. The more you practice your speech, the more comfortable you will be when it is time to deliver it. Yes, this sounds so elementary, but many speakers make the mistake of not rehearsing their speeches. Practice in front of other people, if possible, so that you can receive feedback from them.
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Fear 3. Fear of Failure

The fear of failure is an extremely broad fear. We feel it in almost every aspect of our lives from time to time. Even the most confident people among us have been haunted by the fear of not living up to their own expectations. However, expectations are often too high, and this is the root cause of most people's fear of failure.

Strategies

Confront your fears. You need to understand your fear fully. What exactly do you think you will do or say incorrectly? Write it down. If you do not know exactly what you are afraid of, use stream-of-consciousness writing, write whatever comes to your mind, and do not worry about what it sounds like. After you have listed all your fears explicitly, examine each one and confront it. Do not let it overcome you. You are in charge. You may be surprised at some of the fears that you have written. Some of them will seem inconsequential after you have made the commitment to overcome them.

The audience does not know most of our fears. We may think that every single person in the room is perfectly aware of every single imperfection in our voice, our pronunciation, our clothes, and so on. However, the absolute truth is that virtually every audience member will have no idea what you fear. Knowing this, and fully understanding it, is one of the most powerful weapons against fear of failure.

Picture yourself succeeding. Another strategy in combating fear of failure is simply to picture yourself in the opposite situation, success. If you firmly believe that you will trip on your way to the podium, you just might! We often have the will to make things happen if we firmly believe in them. So picture yourself in a confident, positive manner.

General Strategies for Combating Stage Fright

In addition to the strategies above, which are for specific fears, there are many ways to overcome your fear of speaking in front of an audience.

Release some of your nervous energy. Exercise each day for a few days before your speech. On the day of your speech, take a walk and clear your mind. Physical activity will certainly help you calm down and channel your energy.

Do not show your hands while speaking. Leave your hands on the podium. There is no reason that people need to see them. If your hands are shaking slightly, you may become more nervous if you think people can see them. For this reason, your notes should also be kept flat on the podium and you should avoid using a hand held microphone. However, audience members do not typically perceive nervous body language to the extent that speakers think they do.

Breathe! Yes, breathing is important! Fast, shallow breathing will only make the adrenaline rush worsen. Take deep, slow breaths, and do not breathe through your mouth. Breathe through your nose in a slow, controlled manner.

Speak slowly. Especially if you are a first time speaker, remember to speak slowly. In fact, what you may think is speaking far too slowly is probably the right tempo. We tend to speak far too fast when we are nervous.

Characteristics of Effective Communication

In this section, we will examine what traits are required for effective communication, but it will be helpful to first clearly define communication. Communication is a process by which we gain an understanding of concepts. It is the transfer of messages (usually in the form of language, but not always) from one party to another. Examples of messages are art, a puzzle, a street sign, texting, and yes, written or spoken words.

Communication is not simply a one-dimensional process of someone speaking. Effective communication involves four distinct parts, sender, message, receiver, and feedback. The sender and receiver are straightforward concepts, but the message, which is the information that the sender is attempting to convey, involves several components.

Getting the Message

We have often heard, and most likely used, the expression "I got the message." Having your audience "get" the message is, of course, the goal of every speech. However, the message is not merely comprised of words. When we speak, whether it is to a friend or to a room full of people, we are imparting a message using context. The context of your words will have an enormous impact on how your audience receives your message. If you compliment your boss when you see her one morning, she might be very flattered and graciously accept your compliment. However, if you were to compliment her as she was about to begin giving you your annual performance evaluation, she might be somewhat suspicious of your intentions. You could have used the exact words for each of these two scenarios, but the context in which they are said will have a profound effect on the receiver's understanding of the message.

Communication is comprised of symbols as well as words. A large and innovative furniture company has stores in many countries around the world. In an effort to save on costs and streamline their operations, all of their instruction sheets use symbols only, not a single word. There is a saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words." We are apt to say, that it is certainly true. We all know that a smile is a universal symbol of happiness. No words need to be spoken in order to deliver the message that you are happy and content.

Feedback

Feedback is an important component of effective communication, and it depends greatly on the type of communication being used. There are five main types of communication: intrapersonal, interpersonal, small group, public, and mass communication. Let us look at public communication specifically. In public communication, you typically receive less feedback than you would in a one-on-one interpersonal conversation, or less than a small group conversation. However, feedback is still an important consideration when delivering a speech.

The feedback process for public speaking can be divided into three periods: the pre-speech, the presentation, and the post-speech period. In the pre-speech period, you are writing your speech with the feedback of your audience in mind. This is why knowing your audience is such an important component of effective communication. During the presentation, you should be able to make slight adjustments based on the feedback, however limited, that you receive. Applause and other audible signs from the audience will give you the feedback you need to make adjustments. During the post-speech period, a speaker will evaluate the body language of the audience, and might even invite questions and comments from the audience. If the speaker is a professional public speaker, they will consider this feedback an extremely vital part of their profession.

Traits of Effective Communication
Effective public speaking can open doors to levels of society that are closed to most people. Powerful members of the business and political community will get to know you and they will notice your accomplishments. The following are characteristics of every effective public speaker.

Knowledge and Preparation

There are no short cuts in preparation. If you do not do the appropriate level of research, both of your topic and, most certainly, of the audience, you will not be able to deliver your message. You might be able to deliver words, but the point of effective communication is the delivering your message. You must do your homework to get your facts and have a clear understanding of who will be listening to your speech.

Language

The art, and it is an art, of using language in a highly skilled manner is a key component in effective communication. Yes, people will notice if you make a gaffe in your language. If a politician, for example, mispronounces the name of a local town, his language will get in the way of the message. Moreover, language is more than just pronunciation. Having a robust vocabulary is a vital ingredient in effective speech writing, as well as understanding the context of the speech. You want the audience to think that you can "speak their language."

Good Story Telling Skills

If you seek to be a motivational speaker, you will especially want to be able to conjure up pictures in your audience's mind. The use of descriptive language will help you to connect with your audience, and they will hear more than words; they will be able to picture exactly what you are saying.

Spontaneity

Preparation is vital, but having spontaneity is also important. You do not want your audience to think that you are simply reading from a well prepared and well rehearsed script.

Enthusiasm
If you cannot convey to your audience that you are enthusiastic about your topic, it will be impossible to motivate your audience. Part of the preparation for your speech is to become enthusiastic about your topic and to ensure that you have the appropriate language in your speech that will convey this enthusiasm.

Listening Skills

Writers will often say that reading makes them better writers. The same concept applies to motivational and public speakers. You must be able to effectively listen to other people's view and accept their feedback graciously. A professional public speaker will always incorporate this feedback in their profession.

Integrity and Core Beliefs
If you desire to inform or motivate an audience, you must have the credibility to do so. It is important to have a strong set of core beliefs, which you do not compromise based on the situation. Adjusting your speech to fit the context is effective communication, but changing your beliefs to win over an audience will eventually lead you to failure. You must always be true to yourself for your message to be communicated clearly.

Self-Confidence

Finally, self-confidence is a vital part of effective communication, and it is a trait that can be learned. Sometimes a carefully worded phrase will impart to the audience that you are confident in what you are saying, and a poorly worded one will have the opposite effect. You should never, for example, acknowledge to an audience that you feel nervous or unprepared. Some people who lack self-confidence try to gain empathy from the audience by admitting their nervousness. Ironically, this will immediately make you feel even more self-conscious and can have a detrimental effect.


 
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