It is a well-known fact, that most of us have some fear of presenting. We get nervous, butterflies in our stomach and sweat way more than we should. In fact, surveys have shown that most people fear public speaking more than they fear death.
There is a small percentage of us, roughly 10%, who really get off on public speaking. They are pumped up before a talk and get a big thrill out of being in front of a crowd.
Another 10% of us, fear it above all things. Those who suffer from glossophobia experience gut-wrenching anxiety and will go to great lengths to avoid speaking in public. They may experience nausea or panic attacks, even at the thought of presenting to a group. The rest of us, well, we just don’t like it. Sure, we may get some butterflies, or even lose some sleep the night before. But, we power through and come out alive on the other side.
What these groups have in common is a reaction to the idea of standing in front of a group for all to see. And that reaction is adrenaline, the hormone produced by the adrenal gland in the fight-or-flight response. Luckily, this is something that we can learn to control and actually use to our advantage.
The first thing we need to do if we have a fear of presenting is to acknowledge the fear. We have to realize that we are afraid, and that this is not only natural, but can be beneficial. This fear creates adrenaline, which our bodies produce to help deal with frightening situations. Now, this response was probably not designed to deal with public speaking. But rather to help us handle encounters with lions, tigers and grizzly hyenas. Nevertheless, the principle is the same. Our body is giving us the tools to fight off the fear and conquer our enemy. In this case, a room full of our peers and colleagues. The problem with giving presentations is that there is no immediate physical outlet for this additional energy. So, it has to go somewhere. This often results in speakers “dancing” on stage or fidgeting in general.
The key to dealing with this response lies in how we define these “symptoms”. Most people start to feel the butterflies and then focus on how nervous they are and their potential screw-ups. Instead, try to turn this around to your benefit. Tell yourself that these feelings are your body’s way of telling you, “You’re ready!”. Embrace this adrenaline and use it to pump yourself up to speak.
Secondly, you need to prep your attitude. Take the adrenaline and redirect it towards the positive energy that you want to present on stage. Now, rushing the stage growling and foaming at the mouth may not be exactly the way to go. But, positivity is contagious. And if you take the stage with the confidence to take down a bear, people will respond to that.
The next thing to do, is to breathe. Adrenaline often causes us to take short breaths. This can create a downward spiral as our body is trained to react to a shortening of breath with excitement. Add more adrenaline, rinse and repeat! Breathing deeply has a calming effect on our minds and our bodies. Take a moment to breathe deeply, focusing on the movement of the air. Follow it in through the nose, into the lungs and back out through the mouth. Take a good ten to twelve deep breaths and watch as the anxiety rolls off your shoulders.
Nobody is saying that giving a presentation isn’t frightening. For most of us, the fear of presenting is a very real thing. However, with a solid understanding of where that fear comes from and how it affects us, we can learn what to do with it. Acknowledge the fear, prepare yourself, take a deep breath and do some exercise. These techniques can help you manage your fear, and even harness it into a better presentation.
Simon Kiwanuka Takite has several years of experience in training Business English. He is the CEO at Rwanda English Training Centre, based in Remera, Kigali