The Get-a-Grip Guide to Conquering Your Worst Fears
What's behind it: Yes, you're worrying about forgetting your speech, being boring, and looking foolish. But what also has you on edge is a need to be liked, says Harold Steinitz, PhD, codirector of the Anxiety and Stress Disorders Institute of Maryland in Towson.
"Since there's no one-on-one feedback when you speak to a crowd, you have no way of knowing what anyone's thinking. Part of overcoming your fear is accepting this uncertainty."
But consider this reassuring fact: Researchers who have studied what's on the audience's mind during speeches have found that people want you to succeed. "When you're comfortable, they're comfortable," says Steinitz. "Rest assured that no one is picking out your flaws." If you slip up, move on quickly: The crowd will notice only if you overreact, says Steinitz.
Pro tip: Till K. Kahrs, consultant on public speaking to top CEOs and cofounder of thetrainer4u.com
In his former career as a country singer, Kahrs regularly performed in front of 25,000 fans. Nonetheless, he still sometimes gets anxious in front of a crowd. "The secret is to manage and focus your nervous energy," he explains.
His suggestions: As you speak, look at one person at a time; then, every sentence or thought, pause and shift your gaze to someone else. "Most people make the mistake of letting their eyes roam constantly around the room, but this builds tension because the brain can become overstimulated," says Kahrs. If you're still nervous, try using hand gestures as you speak; they can release tension and make you appear to be a more dynamic presenter.
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