Even though delivering a public address poses no physical threats, our instinctive fight or flight drive kicks in just before we hit the stage in an attempt to protect us from an imaginary menace. As a result, our nerves are sent into overdrive.
Feeling anxious or nervous before and during a speech presentation is perfectly normal. Even seasoned speakers experience speech anxiety. However, the experienced presenters are still able to deliver great speeches lies in their ability to control their angst. And if you want to improve communication skills and present like the pros, then you need to learn how to manage your fear.
Why We Get Anxious
There are three major reasons why we experience fear when it comes to public speaking. And these three reasons correspond to the three different areas of our brain that govern emotions the Old Brain, the Mid-Brain, and the New Brain.
By knowing how these three parts of the brain work, you'll be able to understand the motivation behind your dread and take the right actions to overcome it.
The Old Brain
Old Brain nervousness has its roots on our primitive survival instincts. This part of the brain works by examining our surroundings and by protecting us from situations that could be life threatening. For the Old Brain, survival is what matters most. As bizarre as it may seem, the Old Brain sees public speaking as a threat, not unlike a hungry tiger seeing you as its next meal. However, the rational part of our brain knows that this is not true. As a result, it turns on the survival instinct switch causing you to freeze then fight or flee.
Freezing, in the speaker’s case, you come off as unauthentic or awkward during your presentation. Flight, on the other hand, will have you avoid public speaking altogether.
Mid-Brain nervousness occurs when you are reminded of a past situation that may have caused you embarrassment. If you ever experienced being humiliated in front of your classmates at school or in front of your colleagues at work, then these past emotions may come back to haunt you when you face similar circumstances in the future. To protect you from these familiar emotions, you tend to avoid doing what causes them, in this case public speaking.
The New Brain
New Brain tension is caused by our own patterns of thinking. In other words, we create the scenarios that result in anxiousness during a presentation. We unrealistically adopt the belief that everything must go perfect or I have to be funny, engaging, or compelling. These contrived self-expectations make you apprehensive because of your uncertainty about fulfilling them. You feel nervous because you do not know whether your audience will perceive you the way you want them to or not.
Managing Pre-Speech Nerves – Controlling the Lizard Brain
Now that we understand the causes of anxiety, it is time to do take action to overcome them.
Identify What Causes Your Anxiety
Is it Old, Mid, or New Brain nervousness that plagues you? Knowing the reason behind your fear will help you understand your situation better and envision the proper improvement strategy. For instance, if the New Brain causes your anxiety, then you can fix yourself on the truth that adequate preparation will help you perform better and avoid repeating past embarrassments.
Your Audience Does Not Know You Are Nervous
You may feel like your voice is cracking or that your hands are shaking uncontrollably, but oftentimes your audience sitting several rows away cannot tell. The fact that you are the only one that realizes that that you are anxious should bring relief and help reduce your tension.
Nothing beats worry better than adequate preparation. Knowing that you are prepared for a public presentation will help you gain the confidence you need to deliver a brilliant message. So be sure to allot enough time for practice. Experts suggest practicing your speech at least eight times before the actual speaking engagement. This will help you refine your delivery and help you become more familiar with it’s content. In addition, practicing your speech is one of the most effective ways to improve communication skills overall.
Accept that Your Presentation May Not Go Perfect
No matter how many times you practice, your speech may not be as flawless as you expect it to be. Keep in mind that even great speakers commit mistakes. As such, do not pressure yourself to deliver a picture-perfect speech. Doing so will only lead to the out of control nerves. Instead, remember that your audience does not expect perfection from you. In fact they want you to succeed. What matters to them is your authenticity and sincerity.
Perform Relaxation Exercises
Doing relaxation exercises before your presentation can do wonders for reducing your apprehension. Exercises, such as meditation and deep breathing, will not only calm your soul but will also uplift your spirit helping you to speak more confidently.
Feeling anxious during a public presentation is perfectly par for the course. However, if you want to learn how to improve the communication skills necessary to become an outstanding speaker, then you need to take the necessary action to effectively reduce your fear. By following the simple suggestions above, you will be able to re-route the vital energy required to deliver superb speeches.