Personal development coach and hypnotherapist Denise Bosque knew all too well what it was like to suffer from stage fright. Now, a few years later, she is teaching people how to overcome their fears and enjoy speaking or performing in public.
Imagine the scene: you’re on stage, it’s the first night of a Shakespeare play it’s a sell out and there’s 900 people watching you. It is your turn to speak, you turn to the actor to say your line and suddenly, you realise you don’t know it! Not only do you not know it, but you haven’t the slightest clue what to say or do! All eyes are on you!
This article was first published in Eden Magazine in January 2009 (click on image to enlarge)
Panic sets in and grips you like a vice, your heart pounds and your palms sweat. A feeling of tightness takes hold of your chest and you experience full out fear… Relax, it’s just a nightmare! Except it wasn’t, it’s true and it happened to me, a few years ago when I was doing Romeo & Juliet in a repertory theatre in Colchester. This is an extreme case of what is termed ‘stage fright’. For many people the very thought of standing up in a public place and making a speech, whether professionally, making a business presentation or socially at a wedding, is gut-wrenchingly terrifying.
In a recent poll in America 3,000 adults were asked to list their 10 worst fears. Glossophobia (that is the fear of public speaking, not the fear of lip gloss) came out as the number one fear, over and above death!
So what can we do about it?
The good news is many things. Today I will focus on informal occasions although many of the points raised are applicable to all forms of public speaking arenas.
The number one thing to master is ‘state control’. That is, being in control of your emotions – having just enough adrenaline to stop you sounding boring and flat and relaxed enough to enjoy it! If you enjoy what you are saying, your audience will.
Many people are unaware that fear and excitement come through the same neural pathway in the brain, it’s only your perception, you the interpreter, that chooses if it’s hell and fearful or fun and exciting. You have a choice! So how do you gain control of your state? Firstly, prepare, know your speech, even if written down.
- Why are you speaking?
- What do you want to say?
- Who will be your audience?
- How long do you want to speak for?
Once you’ve answered those questions, think:
Beginnings and endings
The first and last thing you say will be the most remembered so craft those with care. Try and ‘hook’ your audience in right at the start with something dramatic or humorous.
Use sensory/emotional language, e.g. language that expresses feelings, “I felt happy”, “he was inspired”, “her kindness was…”, etc.,this emotional language will impact people far more than dry terms such as “I think”, “I believe, understand” type language. People make decisions on how they feel about something (ask any salesperson).
A major aspect I find when coaching is that many clients have their focus in the wrong place, i.e. on the audience, and “what are they thinking of me?”
People are so busy worrying about being ‘judged’ giving all their attention to it and escalating their nervousness, that they can’t possibly concentrate on the job in hand. So get your attention on what and how you are saying something. Choose to be relaxed and enjoy the experience. No one likes to see someone who is terrified and uncomfortable because they feel for you, it makes them uncomfortable. Remember people want you to be having a nice time.
Rehearse your speech aloud a few times, until you have it just how you want it. Do what actors do, deep breathing to help them relax and gain control over their state. It’s impossible to panic and breathe deeply at the same time. Practice your speech in front of someone you know for honest, positive feedback. Another thing you can do is give yourself an ‘anchor’.
This is where you think of a feeling that would really help you be your best when your give your speech e.g. calm, confident, happy, etc.. Whatever feeling you think would be most beneficial think of a time when you felt exactly like that. So if you want calmness, remember a specific time when you felt really calm, maybe on holiday, maybe some moment yesterday. Now remember what you were doing, see, hear and feel it until the feeling begins to grow in your body. When it’s almost at the peak of it’s strength, make a physical gesture e.g. make a fist or curl your toes, do something you wouldn’t normally do. Hold for 10 seconds and enjoy the experience then let go. Repeat several times.
So when you need this feeling any time in your life you can just ‘fire’ your anchor and bring back the feelings, not necessarily the memory. You must do this at least 20 times for the first couple of days to ‘wire’ it into your neural network as new behaviour. Repeat daily several times and really enjoy the feelings, anywhere, anytime you want to. Remember repetition is the key here.
Any good speaker needs to have rapport with their audience. You can do this in several ways. Before you even say anything:
- Look at your audience, make eye contact and smile.
- If it’s appropriate ask them a question or say something that will amuse them (especially if it’s a collectively known fact amongst your audience).
- If you are reading your speech, lift your eyes off your paper frequently and say at least half of your sentence to them ‘face on’.
- If you feel nervous you can actually tell them that, a bit of personal disclosure can help your audience warm to you, also, once you’ve admitted it, you can forget about it and get on with your speech.
Personally, i think this is the most important thing you can do for yourself, your pre-performance visualisation. If you do this often enough you will find yourself never having to go through the negative feelings and thoughts that accompany public speaking ever again. Rehearse, mentally, physically and emotionally. Focus on what you want. Creating the whole image in some detail will help you move towards it. “
- Sit down and relax from your feet upwards.
- Mentally see yourself giving your talk, notice how you want to be just before you begin your talk.
- See the pictures like a film in your head, so you are in fact, rehearsing it and directing it.
- Then notice the next thing you’ll do, how you want to look, stand, etc. Notice the people, the environment, if you know it.
- Now see yourself beginning to give your speech, notice your posture. Are you reading your speech and taking time to look at the audience as well, etc.
- Now visualise the whole thing but bring your feelings into it, these should include being confident and relaxed enough whilst slightly excited. Picture it from beginning to end, choosing how you wish to feel e.g. relaxed, light, confident,
- Now really imagine those feelings until they begin to happen in your body.
- See the whole thing as an enjoyable experience.
- Bring all of your senses into it see, hear and feel, even smell if it’s appropriate.
- Do this everyday at least once a day (it takes only a few minutes) for at least one week before your speech/talk.
- Get to the stage where you are really looking forward to it.
When I’m coaching clients, it doesn’t matter on what subject, eventually the ‘inner saboteur’ shows up. You know the kind of thing, that little voice in your head which says ‘you’re hopeless at that, you’ve tried that before and it didn’t work, did it?’ you’re going to look foolish, “oh you shouldn’t do that”, etc.
“That which you resist persists” so instead of trying to fight it and create tension in yourself, just silently say to yourself whenever you have negative thoughts, “STOP”, I no longer need this thought it isn’t useful to me”. Replace it with a positive thought e.g. I am now becoming a more and more confident and relaxed speaker. Essentially, what you put your attention on grows, so put it on what you want, how you want to feel, etc, not on what you don’t want. Also believe what you are saying be sincere, audiences ‘pick up’ on this immediately.
93% of what we say is non-verbal, 38% of which is how we say something (tone, pitch, vocal variety, etc) and 55% is body language.
So what you say with your body before you even open your mouth is crucial. For instance, if you have your arms crossing your body, you will be saying “I’m guarding or protecting myself”.
Generally a good stance is:
- Both feet flat on the floor
- Avoid shuffling from foot to foot
- Hands by your side, unless you are actually making a gesture
- Head up – if you are reading from paper or flash cards have them at chest level about a foot from your chest
- Make sure your eyes go down to read, not your head
Practical tips for the day
- Practice deep slow breathing several times throughout the day and especially a few minutes before you are going to give your speech
- Make sure you can be heard at the back of the room, ask if necessary.
- Make eye contact and stand tall head up
- If you are reading your speech either with flash cards (on which the main points are typed) or from paper, have the type at least 14 font).
- Highlight anything you particularly want to emphasise.
- Be your authentic self
- Have the desire to connect with your audience
- Put your attention on what you are saying
- Use drama, pauses, vocal variety, emotional language, humour, take them on a journey
- Most of all enjoy yourself – they don’t shoot you for it! So that’s public speaking – “state” of the art