The one sure way to reduce performance anxiety

If you’re looking for an easy fix for the performance anxiety that unsettles so many speakers, I’m sorry to disappoint you.

There is no easy way to control stage fright, jitters, or whatever else you want to call it. Deep breathing can help. A few moments’ meditation can calm the busy mind. But the only real way to take control of your anxiety can be summed up in three words… do the work.

Do the work of building a solid foundation for your speech or presentation. 

Spend time defining, for your own benefit, the controlling idea or focus of your presentation. Distill it down to one sentence. That’s the essential thought that you want to leave rattling around in the minds of your audience as they leave the conference room or auditorium.

Once you can express it clearly and succinctly to yourself, you’ll feel more confident sharing it with a crowd.

Spend time working on the organization of the speech or presentation. In other words, create a coherent framework or structure for yourself. How will you engage the audience? How much context will you need to provide, and when? What stories will help make your message memorable? What signposts do you need to provide to help the audience follow your train of thought? How will you handle questions? What is needed to ensure the conclusion clearly states, or re-states, your controlling idea? The structure prevents you from rambling off on confusing tangents.

Do the work of capturing your speaking voice – rather than your writing voice.

A lot of the jitters will drop away if you feel completely comfortable with the words you are going to utter. And you’ll only feel comfortable if the words are those you use every day in conversations, rather than the words you write in reports and proposals and essays.

Get into the habit of speaking your script on to the page, rather than tap-tap-tapping away silently at the keyboard. When you talk out  rather than write out your script, the words you use change. And so does the sentence structure you use. 

Do the work of making the script easy to deliver and easy to understand.

Keep the sentences short. Every time you hit the period key you build in a moment for you to control your breathing, and for your audience to process your words. A pause is not empty space, or wasted time. It’s a vital communication tool, emphasizing what went before and drawing attention to what follows.

Set your script out with lots of white space. Try writing one sentence per line… or even part of a sentence per line. You’ll find it’s much easier to find your place on the page.

Do the work of rehearsing.

Not once, not twice, not a cursory read-through just before you deliver. The masters of presentations are the masters of rehearsal. They know that the more familiar they are with every word, every pause, every emphasis, the more chance they have of engaging and persuading the audience.

Do the work. You’ll be confident with your content and comfortable with your delivery. You’ll be assured that you’ve created a good road map for the journey you are inviting the audience to share. That’s when you’ll find that nerves and performance anxiety are less of a problem. 

Other articles on the fear of public speaking:

This post was inspired by one of our favourite public speaking experts, Nick Morgan. He’s posted a couple of articles recently about dealing with the fear of public speaking. If you want to dig deeper into issues surrounding performance anxiety, you might like to check his blog What to Do about Speaking Fear when Nothing Else Works and the follow-up, More Public Speaking Fear – and What to Do About It.

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