When you’re facing an important business presentation, do you often feel like you’re at the mercy of your anxiety? As you probably know, fear of public speaking is rooted in human biology. However, that doesn’t mean speech anxiety is an inevitable fact of life that you can’t overcome. It certainly does not need to derail your goals. Using the right techniques, you can manage your anxiety so that you achieve results when you step up to speak.
Fear of public speaking can manifest itself in a variety of ways. Some people get tongue-tied, others experience an increase in body temperature, while others find themselves pacing or swaying on stage. That’s why you need a personalized plan to manage any anxiety.
That’s the premise behind the first book in our summer reading series: Speaking Up Without Freaking Out: 50 Techniques for Confident and Compelling Presenting. Author Matt Abrahams, a seasoned researcher, educator at Stanford University’s School of Business and communications consultant, offers his advice for developing your own anxiety management plan (AMP). With over 50 techniques to choose from, you can select specific strategies that address your individual situation and you can start using right away.
I appreciated that Matt’s writing made me feel like I was talking with a trusted colleague sharing inside secrets. I even came across some techniques I had never seen before. Here are a few of my favorites.
A simple way to stop swaying
It can be very difficult to change the ingrained behaviors that you have developed in response to stress. If you have tried to curtail nervous habits like swaying as you speak, you know that merely trying to remember not to do it probably won’t work. The minute you focus your attention elsewhere you find yourself swaying again. This habit is distracting to your audience and can undermine your confidence. Abrahams offers a much easier solution: simply stand with one foot slightly in front of the other. Adjusting your center of balance makes all the difference. Try it!
How to stay cool in the moment
Do you tend to get overheated when you step up to speak? You might perspire, get flushed, or just feel so hot that you’re distracted from focusing on your message and your audience.
Here’s all you need to help keep your core temperature down so you can feel cool and calm: an ice-cold water bottle. Simply hold the bottle as you deliver your presentation; it will feel as soothing as stepping into an air-conditioned room on a hot day. And it’s a natural thing to carry on stage. One caveat to keep in mind, though: make sure you don’t inadvertently use the water bottle to gesture.
Another idea I had after reading about Abrahams’ advice: try putting a small ice pack in your pocket.
Use hormones to your advantage
Another thing I loved about Abrahams’ book is the way he empowers readers by explaining the science behind our reactions to stress, and how we can use the body’s natural responses to manage anxiety. This tip is a perfect example.
Oxytocin is a hormone that promotes bonding between people, and is naturally produced in your body every time you hug a friend, shake hands with a colleague, or kiss your spouse or child. Abraham points out that you can inhibit your negative feelings about speaking by encouraging your body to produce more oxytocin in those stressful moments. In fact, I do this every time I speak by greeting audience members with a handshake as they arrive for my presentation. Even just thinking about someone you care about can help to reduce your doubts.
Amy Cuddy, Harvard social scientist and author of Presence also advocates using your body’s hormones to your advantage in combatting stressful situations. Her power poses have been proven to decrease the stress hormone cortisol while increasing testosterone that boosts our feelings of power and control.
(Read my review: Summer Reading Series: Presence by Amy Cuddy)
Use positive distractions
If you’re like most business professionals, you’re all about efficiency. In that case you’ll love this tip that solves two problems with one technique.
Distraction is an effective strategy for managing anxiety. It’s the concept behind my “think the thought” practice: you feel more confident when all your attention is focused on your audience and the message you are delivering in that moment.
Abrahams offers ideas for distraction that also serve another practical and positive purpose. For example, reciting tongue twisters before you step on stage requires so much concentration that you forget about your nerves. And, you’re also warming up your voice at the same time.
Developing your own anxiety management plan (AMP)
Whether you are new to public speaking or a seasoned business leader looking to enhance your communication skills, there is something in this book for you! Using Abrahams’ exhaustive list of useful tips and ideas for combatting anxiety symptoms, you can put together a collection of practices to address your specific areas of concern. He recommends developing what I like to call a “pregame ritual” to perform just before you speak to get in the moment and manage stress. You can also incorporate helpful habits that improve your delivery.
There’s no need to feel trapped by the symptoms of speech anxiety, or to let them rob you of the outcome you’re looking to achieve. Taking control of your nerves is easier than you thought!
What were your favorite tips from Abrahams’ book? Share your reactions in the comments below.