Death vs. Public Speaking? How to Harness Your Nerves

written by

Chad Biggs

March 19, 2015

It seems ridiculous. An anomaly. A statistical error. But according to research from two Bruskin/Goldring research studies more than 15 years apart, public speaking is the number one fear of Americans. That tops heights, illness and even death.

While this may seem counterintuitive, take a moment to think of speaking in front of 100 strangers. Are you prepared? Do you know what you are talking about? What would you do if someone in the audience challenged you? Are your palms sweating yet?

The truth is, even the most accomplished public speakers still get as clammy for their thousandth speech as their first. The difference is their approach, from specific preparation for each presentation to some standards that can help you harness your nerves regardless of the format, venue or audience:

  • Nervousness = energy: While your nerves may feel paralyzing, the fact that you are nervous means you care – about doing a good job, about your audience, about making a lasting memory. It also offers an opportunity to translate the elevated anxiety into positive energy as you break through that wall and get into a rhythm. That rhythm relies on:
  • Memorizing your start and end: Practice is the key to a successful presentation – all the way through. Understanding the flow of what you are presenting, smoothing out potential speedbumps and tongue twisters are also critical. But the most important part for you – and most memorable for your audience – is nailing the beginning and end of your presentation. A successful start gets you in the right rhythm and a strong conclusion leaves a lasting impression.
  • Dialogue over monologue: Wherever possible, incorporate audience feedback – whether that’s a show of hands, answering questions throughout the process or referencing an example customized to your audience. While you are in charge of the experience, always remember it is a shared experience.
  • Give yourself permission not to be perfect: Nobody expects you to be flawless. Most of your audience has been where you are and expect you to be human. If you stumble, clarify and move on.

These are just a few takeaways on how to calm and harness your nerves, and hopefully place your fear of public speaking in a much more normal realm than the rest of America.

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