I was standing at the side of a stage, waiting to give my first public speech to a group of thirty people. My heart was beating quickly. My breathing was tight and shallow. My entire body felt jittery. I looked down at my hands and they were shaking. I tried to control the shaking but failed. I thought to myself, "What if I forget everything and freeze?"
Suddenly, I heard my name as I was introduced to the audience. I walked onto the stage. The audience applauded but I couldn't hear them. I glanced up and viewed them through tunnel vision. My sight was narrowed and my peripheral vision had turned black.
As I started to speak, I felt my throat tighten. My voice sounded strange — high pitched and weak. I fixed my gaze on the wall at the back of the room and rapidly gave my presentation. My only goal was to finish as fast as possible and get off that stage. Though the speech was only three minutes long, it felt like hours.
When I finished, I rushed quickly off the stage and sat down. My hands were still shaking uncontrollably.
Few activities are as terrifying as public speaking. Speeches are continually ranked as one of the most feared and stressful life experiences — dreaded by nearly all people. This nerve-wracking experience is made even more difficult when English is not your native language.
When you feel fear, you have both a mental and a physical reaction. It is the physical reactions that are particularly difficult to handle. When terrified, your body produces an adrenaline response. The adrenal glands release adrenaline into your blood, preparing you for "fight or flight."
The physical responses to adrenaline are fairly consistent and predictable and include sweating, increased heartbeat, shallow rapid breathing, muscle tension, shaking, upset stomach, tunnel vision, and loss of fine muscle control.
Adrenaline produces mental changes as well. Your sense of time changes. Most people experience a "slowing down" of time while some experience "time speeding up." Worst of all for speakers, adrenaline causes your higher brain activities to slow. Brain activity shifts to the more primitive and emotional sections of the brain. This is why you can speak perfectly well to one person but struggle terribly when speaking in front of a group. Your brain is not working as well.
Clearly the great challenge with public speaking is overcoming these fear reactions.
I could hear the crowd of three thousand in the room next door. Loud rock music echoed through the venue. A buzz of energy grew as the event organizer began my introduction.
Backstage, my excitement built. I jumped, shouted, and smiled. I yelled to myself, "I am here to contribute! I will give all my energy and ability to help this audience today! I'm ready to rock! Yes! Yes! Yes!"
I walked to the door and peeked through it to view the audience. They were standing on their feet, applauding. And then they began to chant my name. "A.J. Hoge! A.J. Hoge! A.J. Hoge!" A surge of energy went through my body. I jumped and then ran onto the stage. The audience continued to shout my name.
As I stood facing that audience of three thousand people, I felt no fear. My breathing was deep, my body relaxed. In place of fear, I felt tremendous enthusiasm. In place of nervousness, I felt eagerness instead.
My experience of public speaking has totally transformed. Before a big speech, I now feel powerful — an incredible mix of confidence, excitement, and enthusiasm.
How did I make such a dramatic change? I did it using a few simple techniques, practiced hundreds of times.
The good news is that you can do what I have done. No matter how much fear you have for English presentations, by practicing a simple technique you can train yourself to feel strong and confident every time you give a public speech.
Feeling strong and confident is eighty percent or more of public speaking success. You already know how to speak. Once you overcome the fear of public speaking, you won't have any problem making great English presentations.
Confidence does not just happen accidentally. To overcome the fear of public speaking, you must develop emotional mastery at a very high level. Doing that requires practice and training. Great speakers train constantly.
You will use a very basic technique to achieve the emotional mastery necessary for public speaking. This technique is designed to overcome the natural fear response and replace it with feelings of confidence.
For this technique to be successful, you must practice it many times before giving a speech. Ideally, you will repeat this technique hundreds of times before taking the stage. You'll do this before each and every speech you ever make.
You Can't Suppress Fear, You Can Only Transform It
The adrenaline response is powerful. Once it is triggered, it is almost impossible to suppress. You can't fight it. In fact, any attempt to suppress the fear will make it worse.
For example, if your hands begin to shake before giving a speech, it is nearly impossible to stop them. The same is true for a rapid heartbeat, shallow breathing, muscle tension, etc. Once these reactions have started, they can't be fought. The adrenaline is already in your blood and your body will respond. If you try to fight against the reactions, you'll grow frustrated by your inability to change them. Your fear will multiply as you realize you are not in control, and the symptoms will worsen.
Once the adrenaline response is triggered, you have only one choice — channel the energy into something positive. Remember the purpose of adrenaline — it prepares you for flight or fight. This means you can use the same fear/flight reactions to create courage and fighting spirit instead. This is how I transformed my own fear of public speaking.
By using the energy instead of resisting it, you make yourself into a dynamic and confident speaker. The physical responses of fear and excitement are nearly identical. When you are excited your heartbeat increases, your breathing gets faster, and your muscles tension increases. When extremely excited, you may sweat and your hands may shake. In other words, your body reacts the same. So what makes the difference between extreme fear and extreme excitement?
It is the thoughts and feelings you attach to the physical reactions that determine whether you experience fear or excitement. By connecting positive experiences to the physical sensations, you will train yourself to feel excited and powerful rather than afraid.
We will once again return to the technique of anchoring to program your brain for public-speaking confidence.
The first step is to recreate, as best you can, the physical sensations of fear. You want to get your heart beating faster. You want to increase your breathing. You want to tighten your muscles. The easiest way to do this is to use the peak state exercise you learned at the beginning of this book.
Put on your favorite loud, high-energy music. As you listen to this music, begin to jump and move your body. Little by little, jump higher and jump faster. Put a huge smile on your face. Make strong powerful gestures with your arms. Shout aloud, "Yes! Yes! Yes!" Keep going until your heart is beating fast and you are breathing heavily.
Turn off the music and, while still breathing heavily, begin to talk about your topic. Talk about the main ideas. If you have already planned the speech, do the whole thing. As you talk, move your body. Walk from one point of the room to another. Use strong gestures to make your point. Continue to smile.
At first, this will likely be difficult, as you'll be out of breath. Your heart will be beating fast and it may be difficult to think of your speech. It's okay. Continue smiling and do the best you can. When you finish, turn on the music again and repeat the entire process.
Repeat this exercise at least four times a day. Each day, try to get your heart beating even faster before you practice your speech.
This exercise accomplishes several things. First, you create a positive anchor. By playing music you love and jumping and having fun, you generate strong positive emotions. Feeling great, you then begin your speech. With repetition, these great feelings become connected to the act of giving a speech. Eventually, just thinking about doing a presentation will make you feel excited automatically.
This exercise also trains you to deal with the major symptoms of nervousness: fast heartbeat, fast breathing, sweating, etc. Most people practice a speech when they are feeling calm. Because they always practice in a calm emotional state, they are unready for the flood of emotions that come just before the real speech. By practicing with an elevated heart and breathing rate, you are training your mind to expect these reactions and handle them. On the day of the speech, you won't get scared by these symptoms because they'll be normal and familiar to you. Instead, you'll be used to channeling this physical energy into positive emotions and strong actions.
This is the difference between training and practicing. Those who practice simply review their speech. Those who train do their best to recreate the emotional and physical conditions that will occur during the real speech. By training, you prepare yourself fully and will be ready for anything.
Peak state training takes time. It's not enough to do this just a few times. Ideally, you will do this training hundred of times prior to every speech you ever give.
Preparation and training are what make you a great speaker.
You simply must practice daily in order to improve and master the fear of public
speaking. It's not easy, but it is highly rewarding. Public speaking mastery will open many opportunities. When you speak to an audience, you are able to reach tens, hundreds, or even thousands of people at a time. Your influence grows. As your influence grows, so too will your career.
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