In a poll a few years ago, respondents admitted to fearing public speaking more than death. In America, people would rather be buried alive than deliver a speech. Clearly glossophobia is a serious issue for many, and even seasoned performers like Adele, Stephen Fry and Laurence Olivier have struggled with serious stage fright. Whether you suffer from mild performance anxiety or proper pre-presentation collywobbles, here are some tips for presenting with confidence.
- Breathe properly
Breathing properly from your diaphragm is a really important technique to learn and surprisingly few people do it properly. When you’re nervous your breathing is even more likely to be shallow as your throat will be constricted by nervous tension. Since the brain uses up to 20% of the oxygen you inhale, you need to make sure you’re getting a proper lungful or your thought processes will be compromised.
- Steer clear of stimulants
Some performers have admitted to using a stiff drink as an aid to overcoming stage fright but caffeine, alcohol and other stimulants are generally not a good way to take the edge off your fears. In stressful situations your body produces its own natural stimulants (e.g. adrenaline) so concentrate on channelling those into sharpening your performance. Remember, it’s normal to feel nervous and it’s part of your body’s way of dealing with stress effectively.
- Know your stuff
In a practical way, knowing your material will help you feel prepared. Practise speaking out loud to hear your own voice and try to memorise much of what you want to say. By all means have notes to hand, but use them as back-up rather than reading from a sheet of paper. The more familiar you are with your material, the more natural your delivery will be.
- Think of it as talking not speaking
We all talk to people all the time, and making a presentation or speech is really just another conversation. The best public speakers make their audience members feel as if they’re the only person in the room, so focus on one person at a time as you talk. If you’re presenting to a small group, be sure to make eye contact with each person at different points so they all feel included. If you interact with your audience as you present, that will help to break down the invisible barrier between speaker and listener and create a conversation.
- Get physical
Body language is really important for giving the impression that you’re presenting with confidence, and if you look confident you will start to feel confident. Whether standing or sitting, make sure your back is straight, your shoulders back and your chest open (this also helps with breathing properly). Don’t forget to smile! Experiment with moving around as you deliver your presentation too; when rehearsing try walking around the room or even using props to emphasise your points. Movement can help make your important points more memorable and may help relieve some of your tension.
- It’s about them, not you!
It’s important to remember that your focus should be on your audience and what they need to get out of your presentation, rather than getting hung up on yourself. Overcoming stage fright is all about getting your head in the right place, so don’t dwell too much on how you’re feeling, think about how you want your audience to feel. Make them the centre of your attention and it can only be a good thing.
Being nervous is an entirely normal and natural human response to a stressful situation. The key is to react rationally and not let your ‘fight or flight’ instincts take over and push you into panic mode. By using these simple techniques for overcoming stage fright you should feel capable of presenting with confidence. You can also visit our blog for more advice and tips on giving and writing presentations.