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Tips for handling public speaking anxiety

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Author: August Clarke

If you’re anything like me, then you understand just how terrifying the prospect of standing up in front of a room full of people (or a virtual room full of people!) to speak can be. Personally, feeling anxious about public speaking is extremely frustrating for me, because I know that it’s pretty much an irrational fear. What am I so afraid of anyway? It shouldn’t be so nerve-wracking, but – for myself and so many others – it can be nausea-inducing.

Luckily, there are ways to manage public speaking anxiety and I’ve added some tools to my toolkit over the years to help.

Tip #1: Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse

This tip may seem obvious but if I’m honest with myself, there have been a lot of presentations I’ve done where I’ve basically stood in front of the class and winged it, because I felt like I knew what I was talking about. If you have public speaking anxiety, this is a pretty terrible idea, even if you think you know the material well, because if you are anxious sometimes the words just disappear from your mind completely.

It’s always a good idea to rehearse what you want to say, and also to practice rehearsing it in front of another person if you can. That way, when you get up there and start to speak, it will be muscle memory.

Tip #2: Prepare talking points, not a script

It’s always a good plan to have a decent idea of what you want to say for a presentation (which is why I said to rehearse) but preparing a word-for-word script can actually do more harm than good because, if you forget a line mid-presentation it can completely throw you off. Don’t be afraid to go off-script a little bit! If you have a list of talking points that you want to hit on rather than a long block of text you’re trying to memorize, it will relieve a lot of pressure on you to get things perfect.

Tip #3: Keep flashcards on hand as a safety belt

While your teachers may not like you reading a script off a piece of paper, usually they tend to be fine with a couple of cue-cards. Flashcards are great for public speaking because if you get off track, they can remind you what to talk about! Even if you don’t use the flashcards at all, I find that just having them there relieves a lot of my anxiety when presenting because I know if I forget what I want to say, I have a back-up plan.

Tip #4: Wear something you feel confident in

If you don’t feel confident about the way you look, the thought of dozens of eyes staring at you while you speak will not help your anxiety at all! If I’m feeling anxious about a presentation, I always make sure to take to the time to ensure I’m looking presentable and feeling confident. Sometimes an outfit you like can go a long way in making you feel better about being in the spotlight!

If you don’t feel confident about the way you look, the thought of dozens of eyes staring at you while you speak will not help your anxiety at all!

Even if your presentation is virtual, the audience can still see at least part of you and dressing nice will still help your mental preparation.

Tip #5: Look at eyebrows, not eyes

You’ve probably been told that you’re supposed to make eye contact with your audience while presenting. Unfortunately, this can feel uncomfortable and increase feelings of anxiety for some people. Life hack: next time you have to present, try looking just a little bit above people’s eyes when presenting. Most people won’t notice any difference and it will still give the appearance that you are connecting with your audience while avoiding any uncomfortable eye contact that could throw you off.

Tip #6: Don’t forget to breathe!

Breathing deeply and often goes a long way in reducing anxiety. There’s nothing worse than having to stop mid-ramble in a presentation just take a big gasp of air because you forgot to breathe (I speak from experience). This is also why it’s important to rehearse what you’re saying, so you can make sure that you are giving yourself enough breaks to take breaths.

Remember that while you may feel like all of the things you are insecure about are on display when presenting or that everyone can tell you’re nervous, most people probably aren’t looking that closely. Our brains can conjure up funny things to make us nervous. Despite that, I hope that these tips are useful for you in helping to conquer your public speaking fear!

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