The Fear Factor: Mastering the Fear of Public Speaking, Part I
While fear pervades many aspects of business, presentations consistently drive it to exquisitely high levels. We use the term "presentation" to include any important one-on-one meeting, small group discussions around a table, or speaking before an audience of thousands.
We are talking about a particular kind of fear. Some fear helps motivate you to divert time from the pounding surf of your daily schedule and prepare for your presentation. There comes a point for most of us, however, when the fear is no longer useful. It has crossed the line from excitement to dread. Instead of driving preparation, it now impairs concentration and kills energy.
Fear has a thousand faces, but we have only three basic responses:
Merely suffering through your fear is the simplest and most common response. It requires no learning, effort or practice. Negative consequences flow from this path. In addition to being very stressful, fear tends to break concentration during preparation and disturbs other obligations.
Perhaps even more importantly, these enervating fears can also have an extremely negative impact on your performance in delivering your presentation. Fear robs your ability to casually walk to the stage and be yourself. It tends to kill excitement and block the ability to connect deeply with your audience. Fear can make your body stiff, your breathing labored and your physical movement unnatural.
Usually the first step in dealing with your fear of the big presentation is figuring out how to avoid the fear. Even if you are looking for a longer term solution, at least temporarily avoiding the problem is a key step in creating the space to fashion more encompassing approaches.
Creative visualization is the first step in removing yourself from the scary thoughts and consciously guiding your mind to a new space: actively imagining the desired end result.
Professional and Olympic athletes spend time imagining the desired end result and track the measurable increased performance that follows the creative visualization sessions. Fear stems from the unconscious repetitive thoughts and feelings about failing.
The key to successful visualizations is simultaneously feeling the emotions that would naturally attach to images that you see. To drive emotion, the most powerful vehicle is music - - music that stirs you. Often it is high energy music, something like the Rocky theme, hard driving rock, or passionate jazz or classical. The key is that it drives your energy higher, actively imagining the desired end result.
In visualization, there are two distinct ways to envision yourself: either looking at yourself from the position of an outside observer, or seeing the whole event through your own eyes. While everyone is different, it is usually easier to start by seeing an image of yourself from the perspective of an outside observer. As time goes by, many find it more effective to do the visualization through your eyes as a presenter.
Imagine the room in which you will present. If you know the room location, try to visit it beforehand so you can create the exact setting of your presentation. If you can’t see a remote location, just imagine the kind of room it is likely to be.
Imagine what you will experience prior to the presentation. See yourself walking toward the spot from which you will present.
As you see yourself approaching “the moment of truth,” can you feel where in your body the tension resides?
As you continue walking to the front of the room, see if you can exchange the feelings of fear with a closely related feeling - excitement. Fear is often a part of excitement and their affect on the body is the same: pounding pulse, heavy breathing, a slight shake in the extremities.
Feel the empowering sense that this could be your break-through moment. This could be when you reach to a higher level than you ever thought possible.
Imagine yourself now in front of the audience facing them, looking calmly and intently into their faces. Take a big breath and feel relaxation welling-up within you.
See their faces. Are they interested? Do they need something to enliven them? Take a moment for some “in-flow” of information before you begin the “out-flow” of information.
For more on fear, read “The Fear Factor: Mastering the Fear of Public Speaking - Part 2”