Some of us love to be on center stage, but most people (up to 75%!) suffer from glossophobia, the fear of public speaking. According to Psycom, speaking anxiety ranges from "a slight nervousness" to "full-on panic and fear." Those with the most extreme form of the syndrome "may try to avoid public speaking situations at all costs or, if they must speak in public, endure shaking hands and a weak, quavering voice."
You may not think that a successful, experienced speaker like Brian Grazer would ever feel nervous. But in his new book, Face to Face: The Art of Human Connection, Grazer--whose films and TV shows have been nominated for 43 Academy Awards and 149 Emmys--writes about times when he's felt terrified in front of a crowd.
For example, in 2002 when A Beautiful Mind won the Academy Award for Best Picture, Grazer was "actually shaking" when he took the stage with his producing partner Ron Howard. What did he do to overcome his fear?
Here are three techniques:
1. Make a connection with one, two or a few people. "Today, whether I'm leading a pitch, speaking at a conference, on the set of one of my movies, or appearing on camera myself, I'm regularly in the spotlight with all eyes on me," writes Grazer. "There is one thing that has allowed me to find comfort there and even, most of the time, enjoy it: establishing intimacy with the audience through connection."
For instance, at the 2002 Oscars, Grazer looked up and scanned the crowd. "My eyes found five actresses sitting in the front row: Angelina Jolie, Nicole Kidman, Renée Zellweger, Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock. I suppose that sounds like an imposing quintet--five women of astonishing talent, accomplishment, and beauty--but as it happened, I knew all of them. And by looking at each of them in turn, I was able to regain some degree of control. As I struggled to keep my list of names on my paper in order, I could see them rooting for me. Their eyes said You can do it."
Grazer explains: "That night, I used a trick that has served me well in countless other public-speaking situations. I narrowed my focus from a giant group to an individual or individuals. That allowed me to establish an intimate connection under circumstances that were anything but."
2. Channel your inner child. Grazer tells another story about the 2002 Oscar nominee luncheon, which was "designed to be informal and relaxed [but] felt more uncomfortable than the awards themselves. Many of us [in Hollywood] know each other by reputation only, and it's more than a bit intimidating to have the eyes of your most respected peers on you. Add in the unspoken awareness of competition and it's no day at the beach."
Grazer was nervous and uncomfortable, so he "couldn't help but be impressed when Will Smith spontaneously stood up and addressed the room."
"Hey!" Smith said with a hug smile. "Isn't this a blast?! Aren't we all excited to be here?! It's great to see everybody!"
As Grazer recalls, "In that moment, one person single-handedly changed the entire dynamic of the room. By recognizing our shared uneasiness, Will connected with me and everyone else at the luncheon who thought they were alone in their discomfort . . . By the time Will sat back down, the mood was lighter. Everyone had loosened up."
Now, when Grazer has to speak in public, he remembers how Will Smith "transformed the mood in the room. We all know someone like that . . . someone who seems to have easy access to the most relaxed, least-rehearsed parts of themselves. As you prepare for a speech or presentation, it can be helpful to visualize that person. As you imagine them, don't imitate them, but try to internalize their presence and make it your own."
3. Envision being successful. For this advice, I turn to Terri Trespicio, creator of the Tapped to Speak course, who coaches her students to concentrate on the benefits of being a compelling speaker. "You get the chance to share your story, your insights, your expertise; to hold a position of authority and esteem," Trespicio says. "And the impression you make can open up all kinds of opportunities . . . from being asked to work on a new project to embarking upon a new career."
So while using techniques like the ones Grazer recommends to manage your nervousness, keep your eye on the prize: the positive impression you'll make when your speech or presentation is a success.