I faced my fear of public speaking, worked through panic attacks and a year later was speaking to three million listeners on an international radio show and breezing through television interviews. Here’s how to reclaim your voice whether in small work presentations or large, live audiences.
It will be scary, but you must face your lion and roar back. He is your biggest ally. Sound nuts? You’re here for help so bear with me. I’ve been there, on stage, nauseous, heart-pounding so loud I couldn’t remember my name let alone what I was supposed to say. All I could think is, “Everyone is looking at me. Do these people really want to hear what I have to say?”
You may have tried the Brady Bunch technique as demonstrated when Jan overcame her stage fright by imagining her high school audience in their jammies. If you’re reading this article that approach likely didn’t work for you. So, here’s what works for me.
Step 1: Schedule it. The only way to get over the fear of public speaking is to seek out audiences and actually do it. If you’re an author, you may speak to the local writer’s group or submit a presentation idea to the writer’s conference. My area offered a Writers Can Read event at a bookstore where I’d read for five minutes to approximately thirty people. Even if you’re career requires you to speak publicly, tack on extra practice. Community, church or school programs, or online forums are excellent opportunities.
Step 2: Mentor it. In your mind’s eye, picture a person you know or imaginary ideal listener in the audience. I’d always imagine my life coach in the back of the room or snuggled on the other end of the air waves and smiling with the most caring, attentive expression.
Step 3: Picture it. See yourself speaking with ease and confidence while you practice your speech. Get comfortable with yourself. How you look and sound. Practice in the mirror. Video yourself and watch it. Record your speech and listen to it as you drive or walk. Rerecord and tweak what needs improved.
Step 4: Accept it. Notice how each time, even if you have a written script, your speech changes. The tone or emphasis changes. Often the words change too. No speech is ever given twice. Accept that it will be uniquely given in the moment you give it to the audience.
Step 5: Flow it. Practice only the first few paragraphs to make sure to nail the beginning. Then practice the entire speech without stopping no matter what you say that you hadn’t planned on saying. Transition smoothly into the script as you can. Practice prancing through the hiccup so that when it happens, you don’t skip a beat. Breathe, pause when needed but do not leave the podium or microphone. Glance at your mentor in the back, take a sip of water, smooth your hand over the paper. REMEMBER: No speech is ever given exactly the same twice.
Step 6: Broaden it. Imagine every single person you talk to is a group of people. Your mother is a million mothers. Your family dinner is the board of directors. Your classroom is a Ted Talk auditorium. No matter the conversation, everyone is listening to you. If your heart starts pounding, slow your breath, smile and soothe yourself by inner talk like, “I’m okay,” or by rubbing your leg. Whatever will calm you down. Keep practicing and this will get easier!
Pretend. Pretend you’ve already done this a zillion times. Pretend you are on autopilot like brushing your teeth and can’t really mess up anything that can’t be wiped off with a towel. Pretend it’s over and you nailed it. Feel how good it feels to have the lion on your side. Pretending is a manifestation tool. Pretending allows you to step into the confidence you lack. Pretending gives you courage to tackle the challenge.
Mantra. Make up one. A funny one. An inspiring one. Whatever speaks to you. Just keep it short and say it out loud for a boost of confidence before you take the stage. Say it silently when you need to self-regulate. A few of my favorites: “They can’t eat me.” “I got this.” “Sharing this makes me feel good.”
When I took my first step to make friends with my lion, my heart raced, the paper in my hands shook, my voice crackled as if my lungs were empty… but I keep reading. The better I felt about myself in general, the more comfortable I became in front of others, on or off stage. Seriously, they won’t eat you.