It's difficult for management professionals to avoid public speaking. Between client presentations and industry conferences, you're likely to find yourself standing in front of a large crowd at least a few times a year. If the very thought of talking to a crowd makes you shudder, it's time to acknowledge and conquer your fears.
When you're terrified of public speaking, preparing is the single most important thing you can do. Think of your favorite hobby; chances are, you're so familiar with it that you could answer any question without pause. Approach your speech material with the same level of interest and curiosity. Read everything you can find about the subject, including dissenting viewpoints or opinions. Ask questions, and find the answers. Then write and practice your speech until you can repeat it from memory. A thorough understanding of the material can carry you through a variety of pitfalls, from lost note cards to unexpected listener questions.
Record Your Speech
For some people, the nerves surrounding public speaking stem from uncertainty about audience perception. Remove the fear of the unknown by finding out what listeners hear and see. Set up your phone, and record a video of yourself giving a speech. Watch the playback, and identify the speech abnormalities or physical movements that might distract from your message. As you practice, be aware of these habits, and make an effort to stop them.
Visualize Your Fears
When it comes to public speaking, the phrase "face your fears" has special meaning. Don't wait until the day of the speech to discover your mental and physical reactions to fear; prepare by visualizing them. Lie down in a quiet place, close your eyes, and walk through the event from start to finish. Imagine that all of your fears come true: The audience might laugh at you, you might drop your notes, or you might suddenly notice a rip in your shirt. Feel the anxiety flood your body. Breathe deeply, and refocus until you can calm yourself. Do the same visualization exercise every day until you can calm down quickly and move past the fear. This process gives you confidence that if a nightmare situation happens during the actual event, you can handle it with grace.
Try Exposure Therapy
If your fear of public speaking persists after extensive preparation and visualization, it's time for exposure therapy. Seek out opportunities to speak in front of people, even if it terrifies you. Start small by giving a toast at a dinner with friends. Then offer to introduce the main speaker at a networking event, or start speaking up more in board meetings. Join a group such as Toastmasters, or give presentations at conferences with other management professionals. Over time, as you realize that you can handle embarrassment, anxiety triggers and unexpected situations, speaking in front of people can become more natural and comfortable.
Public speaking is a common but unavoidable source of anxiety for many professionals. By anticipating and facing your fears, however, you can reduce their power and develop a strong, confident speaking style.
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