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July 28, 2022

Public speaking- Stepping outside your comfort zone

Written by Bhavika

Hands shaking, fidgeting, shortness of breath, hating the spotlight, and a keen desire to flee. That’s how public speaking feels to most people. Whether you are a successful, confident person or an amateur, fear of public speaking is the most common fear, affecting about 75% of the people. Did you know there’s even a word for it- Glossophobia.

Hands shaking, fidgeting, shortness of breath, hating the spotlight, and a keen desire to flee. 

That’s how public speaking feels to most people. Whether you are a successful, confident person or an amateur, fear of public speaking is the most common fear, affecting about 75% of the people. Did you know there’s even a word for it- Glossophobia

Now that you are aware of the fact you are not alone in this fear, it’s time to ponder upon why does this debilitating anxiety come into being in the first place. 

Why do you have stage fright

Let’s go back to the moment the fear starts taking root. 

For the unlucky ones, it starts way before they are supposed to present. Overthinking months in advance and worrying to the point of making yourself sick. While for others, it’s as soon as they step foot on stage. No matter how prepared you are, how confident you were on the topic being presented, just as you put a step down on the platform and the mic turns to you, your brain goes blank. It somehow kicks into the fight, flight, or freeze mode. Perhaps it’s an instinctive reaction our brains remember from pre-historic times. A time when hundreds of eyes on us meant danger and in a way they still do. The difference probably is, in the past, it meant physical/ mortal danger and now it means mental/ emotional danger. The danger of being judged and rejected harshly by the audience. 

If you too live with the anxiety of public speaking, here are some strategies to help you center yourself.

  1. Know your audience

More than getting up to give a speech in front of a group of people making you sweat, it’s the idea of speaking in front of unknown people. Why is it easier to present our thoughts in front of family and friends but when it comes to an audience, we seem to lose all confidence? Perhaps it’s because we don’t know the motivations of these people. 

“Why are they listening to me?”

“What will they get out of it?”

You don’t know them and we as humans are biologically programmed to be scared of the unknown. 

To overcome this first fear, get to know your audience. The mistake we make is giving all our focus to the topic and completely disconnecting from the audience. Alas, the unknown stays unknown and becomes a source of anxiety. Do the opposite and before you start, research everything from who’s going to be in the room to what do they expect out of this session. Based on the information you find, start preparing accordingly. This is how you will directly speak to the audience and that connection will bolster confidence. 

Speak about something you are passionate about

It’s a given. To push you out of your shell and make you stand up on that stage, you need to be armed with something you are deeply passionate about. That topic will be your greatest motivator in times you feel like fleeing. When you feel deeply about a particular topic, the willingness to share it with others comes automatically. It had an impact on you and now you want to impact others in the same. The script in such cases holds little value. There is little pressure to remember every word because you will be speaking from the heart. It is also what will deepen the connection between you and the audience, making your words travel and transform into feelings.

Imagine it for yourself, would you rather listen to someone who seems to be reading out of a script in a monotone or someone whose expressions and tone seem to make the spoken words feel alive. You have your answer, right? 

The audience gets engaged only when you are invested, and once the audience is sucked in, their eager body language and energy will surround the room, boosting up your speech. 

Anxiety who? 

Dress to impress

It may sound surprising to some people, but dressing up as your best is one surefire way to feel confident. After all, confidence starts with appearance. 

On the day of your speech, dress up in clothes you feel comfortable but professional in. Our clothes are the first thing people notice when we walk into a room. They are the basis of judgment on who we are and what we believe in. When we feel comfortable, it transfers in our body language. We walk confidently, which is a major factor in lessening anxiety. 

In this way, clothes are the first piece of armor that fortify cool-headedness and present self-assurance. 

Practice in front of a mirror

A lot of thoughts once we are on stage are-

“Should I use my hands while speaking?”

“Do my facial expressions show my nervousness?”

And so on. We are extremely conscious of every little movement we make during the speech or presentation. This puts the focus right back on ourselves and severs that connection with the audience. Anxiety? It’s right back in your head. 

To combat this self-consciousness, practice giving the speech in front of a mirror. I guarantee it’s going to be very weird at first, looking at your face, trying to avoid eye contact. But that is the point of this exercise. It’s to get comfortable with your own self. See for yourself how you speak, what expressions you make, are your gestures too overwhelming and what do you need to do to tone them down.

With enough practice, you’ll step on stage with a gentle demeanor and woo the audience. 

Public speaking is a fantastic skill everyone should master. Not only for those whose career demands it but also for an average person. If only to be comfortable to present your ideas to anyone whether in a personal or professional capacity. It’s a skill that won’t ever go unnoticed.  

Acknowledge that it’s okay to feel dizzy or nauseous before speaking. It does not make you a bad speaker, nor will it stop you from fluently delivering your message. Your fear only has power over you till you give it that power. Practice and the right tools will make you shine on stage. 

In a nutshell

Whether you are a successful, confident person or an amateur, fear of public speaking is the most common fear, affecting about 75% of the people. There’s even a word for it- Glossophobia. Some people overthink about giving a speech well over months in advance to the point of making themselves sick, while for the others the anxiety starts as soon as they step on stage. The mind going blank, sweating, heart palpitations and nausea are common symptoms of stage fright. But with enough practice and the right tools, you can not only present confidently but also woo the audience.