Each week I see a number of clients who come to me for one to one coaching to improve their public speaking. For some, it’s to learn how to design and confidently deliver a presentation that engages an audience and effectively communicates their message. For others, it is because they have a fear of speaking in public and need to overcome it due to an upcoming presentation or pitch they need to deliver.
It has been said that up to 75% of the population fear public speaking so it’s hardly surprising that the majority of my clients experience a level of anxiety in relation to this. And whilst most think they are alone with this feeling, their concerns are remarkably similar to many people.
They generally feel fine and confident when speaking with people one to one or in small groups. But they don’t enjoy being the centre of attention so the minute they have to stand up and speak in front of a group and feel everyone’s eyes on them they become anxious and start experiencing many of the symptoms of nervousness. Actually, this happens even at the mere thought of having to stand up and speak in public! Symptoms may include churning stomach, dry mouth, red face, shaking, sweating, heart palpitations, shallow breath, constricted throat and complete brain freeze. This is the natural fight or flight response to a perceived threat and if you don’t know the tools and techniques to manage nerves and turn them to your advantage it’s pretty clear why you would want to avoid speaking in front of an audience!
Does this sound like you or someone you know?
I think it’s such a shame that so many people avoid public speaking (often since childhood) and are missing out on opportunities to progress their career, promote their business or even to say a few words at the funeral or wedding of a loved one. One man I met recently was in the process of becoming a full time property developer because he knew that to increase his salary and progress his career in the field he was working in he would be required to do presentations and he couldn’t face the thought of it. I’m sure he’ll do very well as a property developer but I think it’s really sad to have to leave a career in an industry you love because of a fear that can quite easily be overcome.
So how do you overcome it?
There are various techniques including hypnosis or hypnotherapy, EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), visualisation, affirmations, coaching, NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) and even just getting out there and practicing in a supportive environment such as Toastmasters International.
But regardless of the method you choose, firstly you have to be ready and willing to say goodbye to your fear and anxiety. In my sessions I often use a technique that can be quite emotional for my clients because it is so simple and so life changing. And the great thing is that you can try if for yourself! Here’s how:
- Find a quiet place where you can relax and won’t be disturbed
- Sit or stand in a comfortable position, close your eyes and take a few slow deep breaths; on each out breath feel your body relaxing
- Clear your mind and enjoy the silence and relaxation for a few moments
- Take a moment to get a sense of the anxiety or fear you feel when you think about public speaking; notice where you feel it in your body
- Thank the feeling for being there and acknowledge that it has been doing a good job of protecting you from having to do something that might have been out of your comfort zone; let the feeling know that it is no longer serving you and it’s time to say goodbye
- Imagine a bubble in front of you, and then imagine taking the feeling and putting it inside the bubble
- Now imagine the bubble moving away from you; use your mind to push it further and further into the distance and imagine it getting smaller and smaller and smaller as it moves away until it is just a tiny speck in the distance
- Remind yourself that it’s time to say goodbye to the feeling that has been holding you back and impacting on your life to this point
- When you are ready, let the bubble completely disappear into the distance
- Notice and enjoy the feeling of freedom you have now that you have released the feelings that have been stopping you from fulfilling your potential
After completing this exercise, my clients report feeling lighter, freer and excited. Often this release will be accompanied by some tears, partly because they’re saying goodbye to something that has been part of them for so long and partly because of the realisation of the exciting new possibilities that are available to them. They can’t believe they allowed their fear of public speaking to have a negative impact on their lives for so long.
If you are playing small and losing opportunities, credibility and money due to your anxiety about public speaking, I urge you to think about taking steps to overcome it. There are many benefits; not only will it be personally satisfying, but your increased confidence and self-belief will lead to you seizing other opportunities to improve your personal and professional life today into the future.
Mel Sherwood is a pitch and presentation specialist who prepares ambitious entrepreneurs and business professionals to take centre stage, embrace the spotlight and present with more confidence, credibility and conviction.
Mel's book 'The Authority Guide to Pitching Your Business - how to make an impact and be remembered... in under a minute!' is available on Amazon. To find out more go to www.melsherwood.com or follow Mel on Twitter @MelSherwood_