Fall conference season is in full swing! As someone who is responsible for helping clients land premier speaking roles, this is one of my favorite times of the year. Logistics are set. Speakers are prepped. Opportunities we secured many months ago are finally here. But amid all the excitement of the season also comes anxiety for those afflicted with stage fright. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that public speaking anxiety, or glossophobia, affects about 73% of the population. I’m one of them. Here is what I’ve learned about how to manage those anxious feelings that can creep up before a formal presentation on stage or simply a Zoom call.
Find a way to release your nervous energy.
Some people meditate. Others listen to music. I yell. When I acted in high school, I’d go outside to my car before a performance and just yell at the top of my lungs. Once at a conference, I was unexpectedly asked to present our program results to a client’s board. Since there was no escaping the giant hotel convention center, I walked right into the bathroom, plugged my ears, closed my eyes and “silently” did the screaming motion. It did the trick! Sometimes simply walking outside and having the sunlight hit your face can have a similar effect to take off the edge.
Look to the audience for reassurance. Or don’t.
Eye contact is important. When I lead presentation training, I advise people to divide the room into thirds and look to each point throughout the talk. Catching the eye of a participant can give you energy, especially if that person is smiling. But what if they aren’t? Then just look right above their heads, which still gives the appearance of eye contact. On Zoom or a video call, you can hide or minimize the view of participants’ faces temporarily. Even just doing this for a few minutes can help to ease nerves and reset.
Many people fall into the trap of memorizing a speech or key facts. This often makes you come across as too rehearsed. I’ve found that if you rely on memorization it is more difficult to recover if you forget a key point. Today, I try to speak from experiences and tell a story, which I’ve generally found to be easier than memorizing data points. If there is a key stat or point I want to remember to tell, I’ll write it down on a paper or have bullets on a screen. And practice makes perfect. Practicing formal presentations is a given; however, even if it’s just a conversation you’re anxious about, try practicing your responses to tough questions out loud beforehand.
Do you suffer from stage fright? Remember you are not alone. Even the most confident and seasoned speakers can get thrown off their game every once in a while. If you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, I hope one of these methods will help you out.