4 Ways to Conquer Speech Anxiety

Nancy Anderson
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Speech anxiety can be a debilitating problem for professionals. If you panic at the thought of public speaking, even a small staff-meeting presentation can feel overwhelming. With practice and a few simple tips, you can ease your fears and deliver smoother, more natural speeches.

Know Your Material

Nothing increases speech anxiety faster than a poor grasp of your subject matter. After all, if you mix up your slides, it can be difficult to get back on track. The solution? Know your material backward and forward. Learn everything you can about the topic or project, and discuss it with colleagues to clarify your viewpoints. Read conflicting viewpoints to increase your ability to answer questions and respond to challenges. Make personal connections with the material, or link it to company-related anecdotes. During the speech, this deep knowledge enables you to speak naturally and helps reduce the panic about losing your place.

Record Your Practice Sessions

Get a clear idea of how you look and sound during a public speaking event by recording your practice sessions. Set up your laptop, tablet, or phone to capture a video. Then, watch the clip back and analyze your performance. Are you speaking too quickly or slowly? Do you use filler sounds, such as "um" or "ah?" Are your facial expressions engaging and confident? This process is uncomfortable, but it helps you identify and master tics and speech patterns that distract from the content of your speech. Over time, the videos help you see progress, which builds confidence and reduces speech anxiety.

Work On Breathing

Nerves alter your breathing patterns, causing you to take fast, shallow breaths. Although this is normal, it can disrupt your concentration and make it difficult to think clearly. Calm speech anxiety and reduce stress in the minutes before you go on by practicing yogic breathing. Place the thumb and little finger of one hand next to your nostrils. Close the right nostril, and breathe out through the left. Then, breathe in. At the top of the breath, close the left nostril with the other finger and leave the right nostril open. Breathe out, then in, and then switch. This process brings your breathing and heartbeat under control in seconds, making it easier to relax and focus on your speech.

Don't Over-Analyze Reactions

In the middle of a presentation, a frown or a head shake can send your speech anxiety into overdrive. Chances are, your perception is likely altered by nerves. A yawn doesn't mean that a colleague is bored — he might have been up late. Likewise, an angry expression probably has more to do with a personal problem or an incoming text than your speech. Avoid watching expressions or over-analyzing reactions, and try not to linger for long on a single person's face.

Speech anxiety is troublesome, but it doesn't have to hinder your career. By approaching your preparation the right way, and addressing anxiety before and during the presentation, you can get through presentations with grace.

Photo courtesy of Matt Harasymczuk at Flickr.com


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