LIVING

How To Deal With Presentation Anxiety And Overcome Your Fear Of Public Speaking

Some people are more afraid of this than they are of death.

08/30/2017 14:36 EDT | Updated 08/30/2017 14:36 EDT
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Public speaking is something that most of us have to do at some point — you may be called on to discuss quarterly results at work, to share a personal experience with a group, or to make a speech at a wedding.

But despite how common the experience is, many of us have a lot of anxiety about this experience. In fact, some surveys have shown that people are more afraid of public speaking than they are of death.

This particular type of anxiety has a name: glossophobia, the fear of public speaking, and some experts estimate that three-quarters of people experience glossophobia at some point in their lives. Knowing that pre-presentation anxiety is common enough to have a technical name may be some comfort, but that information doesn't necessarily give you a concrete way to tackle your fears.

What will help is a plan — one that is designed both to reduce your anxiety about a presentation and to ensure that the presentation goes so well that you'll feel less anxiety the next time around.

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Heed the 12 pieces of advice below — they come from both experts in communication and stress reduction, and people who have been there before — and you'll be feeling cool, calm, and collected next time you have your time in the spotlight.

Prepare properly

Proper preparation for a presentation will help manage anxiety, says communications coach Deborah Ostreicher. That doesn't mean memorization but instead truly knowing and understanding your material.

"Bottom line: if you are speaking about what you know and you truly believe what you are saying, you are 80 per cent there," Ostreicher says. "The rest is about systematic organization of the material."

If you are speaking about what you know and you truly believe what you are saying, you are 80 per cent there.

Her method involves preparing clients with a solid outline of what they plan to do during the presentation versus a script to follow word-by-word. Knowing your subject well, and having an outline to follow, will also help you get back on track if you become lost or distracted during the presentation.

Get organized

In addition to planning the presentation content itself, the Mayo Clinic recommends getting organized about all aspects of your presentation well in advance. Do you have props, visual aids, or audio-visual components? Plan out when you will use them, and test them ahead of time to make sure they're in working order.

PeopleImages via Getty Images

Mark on your outline when you'll have to move to one of these aids, so you don't forget them. And if you can, visiting the presentation space in advance may be helpful, especially if it gives you a chance to test any technical elements.

Go through your fears

Go through your specific fears, one by one, and address them, suggests professional speaker Brian Tracy.

Some of these fears will prove to be unfounded — the guests at your friend's wedding don't want your speech to be a disaster, for example, and people who have paid to see you speak clearly want to be there. Others may reveal places where you can prepare more thoroughly or address particular concerns head on.

Try yoga and stretching

"Anxiety is usually an upper body feeling in our chest, shoulders, jaw, and head," says yoga teacher Pam Reece. "Yoga stretches and breathing techniques can shift that into a more grounded, confident energy."

Yoga stretches and breathing techniques can shift that into a more grounded, confident energy.

Reece suggests unlocking tension around your shoulders and chest by making a frame around your head as you lift up your arms and hold onto your opposite elbows. "Move your upper arms behind your ears so your chest expands and press your elbows outward into your hands to release tension in your upper back," she says.

PeopleImages via Getty Images

For a pre-presentation energy boost, move the "frame" down in front of your torso and then swing it back up overhead a few times to increase circulation and loosen neck muscles.

Think about why you feel nervous

Nervousness can pop up before a presentation for a variety of reasons, Ostreicher says.

"What surprises most people is that the reason for this can be totally unrelated to the presentation itself and is coming from a completely unexpected place," she says.

Getty Images

Pinpointing the cause of your anxiety — whether it's something related specifically to the presentation, or stress from another part of your life that you're projecting onto this task — can help you tackle it more effectively.

Breathe deeply

Take some deep breaths to help yourself settle — but do it properly. "When people hear 'take a deep breath' they often make a huffy kind of movement bringing their chest up," Reece says. "This is exactly the kind of breath we don't want."

Take some deep breaths to help yourself settle — but do it properly.

Instead, picture a "full breath," she says. Sit with your back against a wall or chair and cross your arms in front of your navel so each palm rests on the opposite sides of your waist; then inhale, with your front torso pressing into your arms, the sides of your palms, and the back of the chair.

"Visualize your torso puffing out like a blowfish in all directions, but keep it subtle and don't force it," she says.

Give yourself a pause

If nervousness is taking over during a presentation, you can create a pause for yourself by passing things to your audience, Ostreicher says. "One of my go-to tips is to ask the audience questions and use the response time to stand up very straight and take long, deep breaths," she suggests.

mihailomilovanovic via Getty Images

"The body's physiology changes when you do this, making it much harder for nervous feelings to penetrate the brain."

This is an approach Rafiq Punjani, president of Anago of Manitoba. likes too. "This will give you a chance to relax, breathe and compose yourself," he says.

Embrace the nervousness

There can be something calming about embracing pre-presentation anxiety as normal, says magician Gregory Green. "As a performer for over 20 years I have found that a little nervousness or anxiety is a good thing," Green says. "A little anxiety is a sign that I still care, that I still want this group of people to like my presentation."

A little anxiety is a sign that I still care, that I still want this group of people to like my presentation.

Punjani points out that anxiety can help ensure you prepare adequately instead of attempting to wing it. Try taking this positive angle on your nerves and see if that works for you, if fighting them is merely creating anxiety.

Get the audience's view

If you are unsure about the visual aspects of your presentation, find a way to get a look at that ahead of time.

altrendo images via Getty Images

"It might help to see yourself presenting in front of a mirror or in a video recording," suggests Punjani. Or ask a friend or colleague to watch your presentation and offer constructive but honest feedback.

Turn that energy into excitement

The energy that comes along with nervousness can be channelled into something positive.

"I work with clients to translate nervousness into excitement," Ostreicher says. "In our planning for the presentation, we work to find what is exciting to them about the topic and build the presentation from there. Then when it's 'go time,' we focus on that excitement."

The energy that comes along with nervousness can be channelled into something positive.

Remind yourself why you are doing this — it's a great professional opportunity, or you're excited for a friend or family member getting married — and remind yourself of that as you prepare.

Take a break

As important as preparation is to a successful presentation, there are times when stepping away from the prep can be helpful as well.

"If you have prepared well but are still anxious, you might be overthinking," says Punjani. "Take a break and do something you enjoy; play a game, read the news, call a friend!"

Michael Heffernan

Get help if needed

It's not unusual to feel anxious before a big presentation or speech, but some people actually deal with clinical anxiety, a medical condition.

If you have significant worry or fear about future events, if you experience physical symptoms (e.g., heart racing, shortness of breath) associated with anxiety, and/or if your anxiety interferes with your life, speak to a medical professional to see if something more serious is involved.

Also on HuffPost: