In a recent interview with Arianna Huffington on the Thrive Global podcast, none other than Malcolm Gladwell confessed that he had to overcome a fear of speaking in public. Surprising news from one of the most prolific speakers (and writers and thinkers) around.
Gladwell told Huffington that he employed what he called a comparison strategy. Before giving a talk, he would simply think of some other event that caused him great anxiety and then compare that with speaking. For Gladwell, who was a runner as a youth, he'd think of the super intense pre-race anxiety he felt and then compare it with speaking.
It was no contest. Imagining that greater fear made the one in front of him (as he was about to take the stage) seem like nothing. As Gladwell put it in the interview:
"Every time I would get even remotely nervous about public speaking, I would think, 'But this isn't nearly as bad as running a race,' and my anxiety would subside."
Gladwell went on to say that the comparison strategy can work for any fear you're trying to work through.
Regarding the fear of public speaking, he also noted that "if you prepare properly for those events, then the stressfulness goes away."
Comparison and preparation.
On the basis of my own 10,000 hours of experience in public speaking (using Gladwell's measuring stick), I'd like to add to his genius advice.
Here's how you can calm your nerves before giving that talk
First, you calm nerves when you embrace the nervousness itself. That feeling in your gut before you get up to speak isn't there to scare you. It's there to tell you that you care about the audience and the experience you're about to give them. Let that fuel you and the nervousness will dissipate as you start your talk and quickly establish a rhythm (which happens if you're prepared).
I also remind myself as I get onstage that if I do stumble a bit on any part of the talk, the vast odds are that no one will know it but me. The important thing is to just keep chugging along.
I know people who get very anxious before talks because in their minds a slip-up would be catastrophic. Outside of freezing up deer-in-the-headlights style or inadvertently blurting out a string of profanities (neither of which happen if you're prepared or not crazy), the crowd will roll right along with you.
Finally, you can also think of the audience as a small group of empathetic friends. No one wants to see anyone bomb onstage. At least two-thirds of the people in the audience have also been in your shoes in some form and may have been just as nervous, or more so.
Draw on that commonality of experience to convince yourself (because it's true) that the audience has your back.
The caveat to that is if you're truly boring (which you can work on) or, you guessed it, unprepared. Then you deserve the checked-out reaction that you'll get.
Nerves before public speaking are nothing new, and you're certainly not alone. So let these time-honored tricks keep you company right before you go on that seemingly lonely stage.