If you missed Part 1 of this series, you can read it here.
6. Practice, Practice, Practice
Public speaking — the art of telling stories, conveying your message, connecting with your audience, capturing their attention — it’s a skill. It’s learnable and like everything else, what you practice will become easier.
Couple of tips I found to be useful:
- Record yourself both during practice and at the actual speaking engagement. I know. It’s awful to watch yourself on video but it’s really a great way to objectively review and improve your talk. In the public speaking class I took at Stanford, the students were recorded in the beginning of the course and towards the end of the course. I was surprised to see that there was a noticeable improvement in just 10 weeks.
- Practice in front of someone. My husband has been my “practice audience” since my very first talk. Having someone you can trust to give you honest feedback is very helpful. Toastmasters is also a great place to test drive your talk in a safe environment.
7. Set Realistic Goals
In 2012, I decided I was going to get over my fear of public speaking and set a goal of speaking at least once per month. This included the usual speaking engagements such as at CLEs but also speaking up in meetings.
This felt awful in the beginning and I dreaded each event, but over time, the feeling of dread faded.
8. Don’t Feed Your Anxiety!
Anxiety is a set of physiological responses to a stimulus. This response has a very short shelf life as long as you don’t continually feed the physiological responses with thoughts.
For example, you’re waiting to take the stage and you feel your heart race, your stomach tightens, and your palms are sweaty. This is the physiological response. Your brain interprets these responses as anxiety.
You can diffuse the physiological response by seeing it as a passing phenomenon (and you may find it helpful to think, “This is just my body’s natural reaction, a way to let me know something important is about to happen.”) You can also heighten the physiological response by adding more anxiety-producing thoughts. For example, if you tell yourself, “I am so nervous, I’m going to suck at this,” it will just prolong the body’s stress response.
9. Notice Cognitive Distortions
Cognitive distortions are inaccurate thoughts that we believe to be true. One such distortion is “black or white thinking.” Either you gave a perfect speech or it was absolutely terrible. I often fell into this trap of binary all-or-nothing thinking. It’s possible to fumble a bit, get tongue tied, or hit other bumps in your talk and still deliver a perfectly good talk!
Similarly, notice when you find yourself hyperfocusing on the one person in the audience with her arms crossed and giving you the evil look. Our brains are hardwired to do this — look for dangers and hyperfocus on what isn’t going right. Find the friendly faces in the room and engage with them instead.
Finally, don’t forget to pause and celebrate the small victories. If you’re petrified of public speaking and despite your fears, you found the courage to do it anyway? That should be celebrated! Before you start listing all the things you didn’t do right, things you should have said differently or forgot to say, stop and at least give yourself some credit for doing this thing that’s really hard for you.
I want to hear from you! What tips or suggestions have you found to be helpful in getting over your fear of speaking or becoming a better speaker? Drop me an email firstname.lastname@example.org or Tweet @jeena_cho.
P.S. If you’re interested in learning more about anxiety management, my book, The Anxious Lawyer (ABA), is available for presale!