Public speaking or speaking in front of an audience is termed as the No 1 fear of humans. It’s officially known as “Glossophobia” – the fear of public speaking. It results in stage fright or public speaking anxiety. So how can we overcome stage fright, public speaking fear or public speaking anxiety? In this blog, you will find your answer and practical tips to overcome it.
What is stage fright or public speaking fear ?
I have been pondering this question for a long time. You might be thinking, Why? To solve a challenge that we face, first, we need to understand the problem. As usual, I googled it and all I got was a technical textbook definition, which definitely helps us to understand what it is. But, I chose a different path. What I did was, I took an experiential approach by interviewing beginners, experienced speakers and self-analysed my own experience. This is what I found out: Stage fright or fear of public speaking is nothing but heightened self-awareness, a mental battle of self-doubt and fear of not being accepted by the audience.
1) Heightened Self-awareness
Self-awareness is one of the powerful tools for personal growth. All the gurus discuss self-awareness. Part of self-awareness happens while we are on stage. I specifically mentioned “part of” because there are many aspects of self-awareness. While we are on stage we become self-aware of our body movements.
For example: Walking on the stage: A simple activity which we do all our life unconsciously or subconsciously, we just get aware of it, which is a good thing. The problem arises when we are not used to it. And we try to question ourselves. I hope I am walking the right way, I hope my body language is right, Why am I sweating so badly? Do I sound this way all the time or it’s just happening because I am on stage?
It’s good to be self-aware but you can only handle it by experiencing it more often. So how can you experience it more often?
While you are practising at home, close your eyes and practice. Suppose if you are practising your speech 6 times, in that 2 times close your eyes and practice. You will start noticing your movements and you will be used to it. So while you are on stage, it’s no longer a strange experience. This trick worked for me, if you have any other tricks please share them with us in the comment section.
2) The mental battle of self-doubt
All the possible questions of self-doubt appear in your mind while you are on stage or especially a few minutes before you go on the stage. If I give you a task to write the content of all self-doubt questions, you will be a champion in it. The thing is, it’s natural and normal to have self-doubt thoughts. It happens to everyone who is trying something new. Think about it, any task which is new to you will have self doubt thoughts popping up and it’s totally fine. But the problem arises when you start answering those questions in your mind or when you start visualising those things happening. You need to understand that these thoughts are just recycling information in your mind.
For example, You watch a horror movie and a few hours later scary thoughts arise in your mind.
Thoughts are powerless. They are just information. The moment you start answering them or visualising them, or try to get rid of them, you are giving it more power and it grows stronger. The human mind cannot delete, subtract or remove anything, it can only add or multiply. So whenever a negative thought appears, replace it with 3 positive ones. You need to overpower negative thoughts with positive thoughts.
You have to deliver a speech in the next 5 minutes and you have prepared well for a week.
Thoughts that may arise:
That speaker’s speech was really good. Is my speech good enough?
I hope I won’t forget my speech. I think I will screw up.
Whenever negative thoughts appear, just replace them with 3 positive ones.
Everyone’s journey is different. I might not be as good as another speaker at this point in time but still, I will go there on stage, deliver my speech and improve it.
If I forget my speech it’s okay, I have my notes in my pocket. I can refer to it.
I have prepared very well, I know I won’t forget it.
3) Fear of not being accepted
This happens more often while we are delivering a speech or expressing our way of looking at life or our perspective. It’s natural to have these thoughts. You need to understand everyone has their own perspective and that’s why we are unique and that’s what makes you unique. So don’t overthink about it, just go on to that stage and give your best. If your perspective is of value, people will love it. If not nothings gonna happen.
Why do we get stage fright or fear of public speaking fear?
There is a part of our brain called the reptilian brain or lizard brain. Watch this video for more details.
Basically, the lizard brain or reptilian brain is responsible for survival, anger and reproduction. We all know how our minds get hacked by the lizard brains during the reproduction process and I am not going to go in-depth with it. So what happens is, whenever we try to do new things which we have not done on a regular basis or in other words while we try to come out of our comfort zone. The natural process of the lizard brain takes over and says
“Hey hey hey buddy what are you doing? What’s that new thing you’re trying? It might be dangerous, you will fail, we have not done this before, people are looking at you. Why don’t you do the things which you always do, it’s SAFE HERE”
While we are on stage and you see all the eyeballs gazing at you, your lizard brain switches to survival mode to protect you.
- Heightens your response rate and awareness
- Your heart beats faster
- Sweat dams are open throughout your body
- Your movements will be quicker than usual
- Thoughts emerge faster than usual
The truth is you can’t get rid of it but all you can do is acknowledge it and calm yourself.
Pro tip: To calm yourself, observe your breathing and slow it down consciously.
In the world of meditation observing the breath means you are in the present. There are few other simple aspects about being in the present, so don’t get carried away by all this marketing stuff going on regarding being in the present.
So basically you can’t get rid of the adrenalin rush completely. All you can do is control it. The day you won’t get that adrenaline rush while you are on stage that’s the day you won’t be enjoying being on stage.
How can we overcome stage fright or fear of public speaking
1) Checklist: Before going to the venue
You know the drill. I won’t go into the details.
Plan out everything:
- To be honest everything cannot be planned. You have to plan most of the worst-case scenarios.
- What if ppt goes off
- What type of questions I can expect
- What if I don’t know the answer to the question, how can I respond smartly? (It’s totally fine if you don’t know all the answers, you can always get back to them.)
Practice, practice, practice
- Initial few speeches practice thoroughly and spend more time on practising. After a couple of speeches, you will notice your practising time goes down. For example: Initially, I used to practice a speech 10 to 15times, but now it has come down to 5 times.
2) Checklist: Before going to the stage
Use affirmations to boost your confidence.
I have practised well, I am going to deliver a speech and the audience will love it.
I know I can do this etc etc you got the point right?
Most of you might be thinking this is insane. It can’t be true. I used to think that it wouldn’t work, until the day I applied them and saw the magic happen. During the first interview of my life, I was scared to death before the interview. What I did was, try power poses in the washroom, obviously, I can’t do it in front of everyone. My level of confidence just shot up. Combination of power pose and reiterating positive thoughts is a powerful technique to boost your confidence.
Actually, it’s a technique used in NLP ( Neuro-Linguistic Programming). If your emotions can affect your body language, then your body language can affect your emotions. That’s how the human body works.
Watch this video for more details.
- Listen to your favourite music which gives you power and confidence.
3) Checklist: While you are on stage
Focus on breathing:
While you are on the stage. The first thing you need to do is stand firm and take a deep breath. Not a shallow breath, a deep breath or we call it “Diaphragmatic Breathing” or “Belly Breathing”. This will help you to gain control of the situation.
Note: You don’t have to place your hands on your chest while you are on stage. Don’t ask me “WHY?”
Don’t give yourself too much importance
The speech is about your audience, it’s never about you. You are just a mere tool to convey the message and make a difference. So don’t be self-obsessed. If you make small mistakes it’s fine as long as it won’t mislead your audience.
Enjoy the game you are in
You are speaking to express not impress. So enjoy your time on stage.
These are a few techniques to overcome stage fright or public speaking anxiety.
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- Speech writing format : Guide to craft a speech
- Practical tips to overcome stage fright or Public speaking anxiety
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Note: This blog is not a bible for public speaking. These steps or techniques are most widely used by creative speakers. If you have your own process which you follow do share it with us in our comment section. If you have any queries or thoughts to share, do leave a comment below.