The fear of public speaking holds people back from achieving their goals or advancing their careers. For example, if you don't speak up in meetings, you lose influence. If you avoid giving presentations, you lose the opportunity to stand out. Or, if you let others pitch your team's idea, you give peers much of the credit that belongs to you.
Most people say they avoid speaking opportunities because they have a fear of talking in front of an audience. Unfortunately, you'll never really reach your potential if that fear stops you from speaking up or volunteering to give a presentation.
Based on my work with hundreds of CEOs, entrepreneurs, and business leaders, here are three strategies that have helped speakers turn anxiety into confidence.
1. Reframe Your Feelings
You don't conquer the fear of public speaking; you manage it.
Some people find this observation surprising because they've been told they can "conquer" or eliminate their fear. Eliminating the fear of speaking entirely shouldn't be your goal. In fact, from an evolutionary standpoint, fear of public speaking is a holdover from our ancient brain. Our ancestors needed to be accepted by the group to survive.
Getting nervous about speaking in public is natural.
The secret is to turn those butterflies you feel into positive energy by reframing the situation as an opportunity to share your ideas. Reappraising nervous energy as excitement is a simple way to turn your fear into confidence.
For example, instead of saying "I hate public speaking," say "I'm excited about sharing my ideas with the team on Tuesday." Negative self-talk will raise your heart rate. Positive self-talk will keep you calm and boost your confidence.
2. Practice Over and Over
Public speaking is a skill, and, like any skill, it can be learned. When I wrote a book on public speaking, Talk Like TED, I interviewed many top-rated TED speakers: Bryan Stevenson, Dan Pink, Jill Bolte-Taylor, and others. You'd be surprised at how many speakers were once terrified of giving a speech or presentation.
They learned to manage their fear by relentless practicing their presentations. Some famous TED speakers rehearsed their presentations hundreds of times. Their confidence grew with every practice session.
For example, I play golf. Any golfer knows that if they haven't played for a while, they feel rusty and can't hit the ball as well as they used to. Sometimes the game gets too hard, and players give it up altogether. If they give up, they'll never improve. In golf, improvement happens slowly. In between rounds, good golfers get coaching, watch tutorials, read books, and get feedback.
Public speaking is a similar skill. Improvement happens slowly, but it can happen consistently. The more you put into it, the better you'll perform.
3. Breathe Like a Navy SEAL
Navy SEALs are taught a breathing method to manage the body's fight-or-flight response. It's called box breathing. It helps them calm down and think clearly in stressful situations.
You can perform the breathing exercise a few minutes before it's your turn to talk. Box breathing works like this: Breathe through your nose for four counts, hold for four counts, and exhale for another four counts. Inhale and go through the process again.
I go through a box breathing exercise three to four times before I speak. It brings down my heart rate and helps me focus on the talk itself. The last thing I do is smile and remind myself that sharing my ideas is a joyful opportunity.
These three strategies--reframing, practicing, and breathing--will boost your confidence and raise your profile as a public speaker.