As a public speaking coach, I’ve helped many to conquer their fear of public speaking. You can too. The five steps below reframe and “rewire” your brain and thinking. Follow the steps and you’ll quickly become a confident speaker.
1. Understand Your Body's Reaction
The fight-or-flight response, also known as the acute stress response, is the physiological reaction to perceived danger. It literally means that your body is preparing to either fight or flee. The following are byproducts of acute stress:
- Rapid Heart Beat and Breathing: The body increases heartbeat and respiration; This provides oxygen and energy that will be needed to respond to danger.
- Flushed or Pale Skin: As the stress response begins, blood flow to the surface areas of the body is reduced, and flow to the legs, arms, muscles, and brain increases. You may become pale, flushed, or alternate between the two.
- Dilated Pupils: The body prepares itself to be more observant and aware.
- Trembling: Your muscles become tense and ready for action; this can result in shaking or trembling.
Understanding ‘fight or flight’ allows you to mitigate, alleviate, and lighten these reactions. You recognize that you’re not in mortal danger, and you won’t be kicked out of your one human tribe, and forced to face this dangerous and cruel world alone. This realization allows for some levity. You can recognize this reaction, and say to yourself, “I’m perfectly fine, safe, and feeling more and more strong, self-assured, and empowered.”
2. Practice Visualization
Visualization is a powerful tool; many successful athletes and business icons credit it for their success. Michael Phelps, a 23-time gold medalist, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Lindsey Vonn, one of the most successful female skiers in history, visualized often. Oprah Winfrey and Jim Carrey state that visualizing specific goals and achievements resulted in their fruition; it made it happen.
Practicing visualization each day for 10-20 minutes will retrain your brain to move from fear to confidence. Close your eyes and see the venue where you will be speaking. Imagine your audience. Are these colleagues or fellow students? Make the imagery vivid; include sounds, smells, lighting, and people. See yourself speaking with confidence. See the audience interested and engaged. Once you’ve given the presentation, feel pride and joy in your accomplishment. Your brain will interpret this as though it actually happened. Visualization works. Rewire your brain and transform your reality.
3. Take Advantage of Every Speaking Opportunity
Just like the saying, “practice makes perfect,” the more you do, the better you become. It’s like learning to play the piano. No one sits down and plays like Mozart. It’s taking incremental steps forward. The more you practice, the more confident, proficient, and engaging you become. Talk to new people at work and in social events. Give toasts — volunteer information at your next meeting. Take advantage of every speaking opportunity, and you will grow. Each time you speak, tell yourself, “I’m continuing to grow in confidence and engagement, and it’s not scary. It’s actually kind of fun.” Feel pride every time you speak when it scares you. You’ll begin to find that speaking is coming more naturally to you, and your confidence will grow.
4. Practice, Practice, Practice Speaking Out-Loud,
Once you’ve volunteered to host your next business meeting or give that speech at a wedding, practice, jot down a quick outline, and then start talking to yourself. Just put in a Bluetooth, and even if you don’t have one, everyone will assume you do. Practice out-loud as frequently as possible, in the car, walking, and at home.
You can also record yourself. We often sound different than we believe we do. Listen, identify areas for improvement, and continue to perfect your message.
Saying your speech out-loud continues to rewire your brain. Most people practice their speeches in their minds only. Whenever you practice your presentation out loud, you continue to strengthen the neuro pathways from thought to spoken word. Incorporate aspects of visualization; imagine the venue, feel pride and happiness after practicing, relishing in your accomplishment and success. Again, your brain will interpret this as though it actually happened.
5. Stop the Negative Self-Talk and Replace It
Become aware of your thinking. When you catch yourself thinking negative statements about public speaking, such as-
- I’m horrible.
- I’m going to fail.
- Everyone will think I’m stupid.
Stop this negative thinking in its tracks. Everyone with a fear of public speaking began here. All of these statements are negative assumptions, and none of them are true. Are you a fortuneteller? Can you see the future? No. When this old broken record skips in your brain, stop the negative self-messaging, and replace it with positive statements of empowerment, such as:
- I’m a confident and engaging speaker.
- I have valuable insight and information that people want to hear.
- I’m continuing to grow in my speaking journey and getting better and better.
This continues to rewire your brain, moving you from a fearful speaker to an empowered speaker.
These five easy exercises will move you from fear to confidence. You’ve already completed one of the five. You understand ‘fight or flight,’ and can reassure yourself that you’re safe. You can stop the negative self-talk beginning now and replace it with positive, affirming statements. Try visualization tonight. It feels great! Pretend that you’re hosting the next business meeting, and start practicing out-loud, frequently. Then volunteer and actually do it. You’ll be shocked at how quickly you improve following these steps. Why not begin to conquer this fear today, and release your inner prowess?