It never fails: When polled, Americans put “public speaking” high on their list of greatest fears – right along with flying, death, and man-eating snakes. Eliminating fear of public speaking, in other words, is a sentiment nearly everyone can relate to.
Public Speaking International has worked with thousands of executives worldwide, and the fear of getting up in front of a group causes some level of anxiety in most of them. Public speaking anxiety is a form of social anxiety literally felt by millions every day.
And that stage fright is complex, made up of various factors: fear of looking stupid, of making a mistake, of not being interesting, of not being able to adequately answer a question, ad nauseum. All this fear has a way of coming to a paralyzing head right before we walk up to the lectern.
Obviously, for your speech to be effective, you need to find a way to calm your nerves before speaking, and begin your speech in a state of relaxation. Relaxation brings confidence, and speaking with confidence leads to credibility.
If you suffer from fear of public speaking, here’s a way to relax before you go on that takes just five minutes. Yes, you can actually learn to relax in that amount of time! Once you master the technique, you can do it easily, even at a moment’s notice (that’s when you’ll need it most):
- Find a quiet place where you can focus (if all else fails, a toilet stall will do). Sit in a relaxed position with your feet flat on the floor.
- Close your eyes to block out distractions.
- Listen to your breathing for a full minute. Feel the way breathing nourishes and sustains you…feel the breath flowing down your throat, filling your lungs, and then bringing oxygen to every cell in your body.
- Now, focus on a visual image you “see” in your mind. Make that image a colored shape – a green circle, a yellow square, a blue triangle. Choose any object that doesn’t have emotional overtones (whatever you do, don’t pick red; red is a real “rage and anxiety” color – just ask a matador).
- See that object in as close to crystal clarity as you can. This will take concentration and you’ll need to practice to perfect it. Other thoughts, images, and feelings will emerge; notice them and let them go. Keep a gentle, persistent focus on your image.
- Your breathing will become slower and deeper. This is what you’re aiming for; you’re now in a calmer, more relaxed state. When you’re ready, open your eyes and slowly stand. Try to maintain this level of calmness and relaxed breathing.
This exercise allows you to calm yourself and focus your attention–two critical attributes of eliminating public speaking anxiety and giving a good speech or presentation.