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Breaking the Spell of Anxiety

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You have worked diligently to build a presentation that will engage and persuade your audience. You have given examples and research that will be relevant and appeal to the audience members, because you have done your research on who will be there. Your slides are masterful creations that give visual representations to the content without putting your audience in autopilot mode, and you have practiced your presentation so that you are confident and familiar with the words.

Now that you have spent time practicing your speech it is time for Guideline #Eight to create a Speaking Outline you can use the day of your presentation. This outline is different from your full content outline in that it consists of key words to help you remember your content, and can also contain tips for your delivery like “advance slide”, etc. Additionally it can contain the research data, statistics or facts you will cite during the speech so you won’t need to memorize them all word for word.

There are many different ways people create their speaking outlines along with different displays they use during the presentation such as 3×5 cards, PowerPoint notes, Word doc’s, binders, notebooks or ipads. This is a personal preference so experiment when you are practicing and see what works for you to provide comfort and ease of use during the actual performance. Practice with the Speaking Outline a few times so you know you have all the essential information included. Keep in mind that when you rehearse you may substitute words each time you give the presentation, which will help you find the right words that flow well together and create a logical order.

Now everything is ready to go and it is almost time to take the stage and give the presentation that you have expended effort to create and practice. The seconds are ticking by and as the time approaches your anxiety is mounting, you feel your heart start to race, your palms are sweaty, your knees start shaking, your stomach is turning into knots, and you can feel the sweat drip off your brow. What do you do now? Why does this always happen? How will I ever give this presentation without passing out or having a heart attack?

Guideline #Nine is all about how to deal with the anxiety that plagues people before and during the presentation. Most performers experience what I call “Performance Anxiety” in varying degrees whether you are a speaker, actor or actress, dancer, athlete, lawyer, surgeon, project manager, human resources manager or CEO. One of the top fears in America is public speaking so you are not alone if this is your modus operandi, and you work diligently to avoid those positions where it doesn’t come up. Instead of derailing your career let’s face the monster and see what we can do to help alleviate or diminish the nervousness that paralyzes us before we speak.

The first thing to think of is how do you cope with or calm yourself in a stressful situation or job interview. Can you practice breathing, meditation, closing your eyes and focusing on your “happy place”, yoga, tai chi, walking around the block, or exercising before the event to relax your muscles and bring oxygen to the brain? What about visualization, the process where you close your eyes and visualize yourself getting up to give the speech, giving the entire speech perfectly and then hearing the applause as you conclude. Visualization is all about practicing the speech in your mind’s eye and setting up the experience of a successful presentation before it ever begins. Other possible techniques include invoking humor by visualizing the audience with just their underwear on or with no clothes on to keep your mind distracted. Or find a friendly face in the audience and keep your eye contact returning to the friendly face. Others say to think of the audience as friends, but really it is all about a strategy that works for you.

Practice with different techniques or a combo of techniques long before the performance begins. Stay away from coffee, sugar, energy or caffeine drinks a couple hours before the event as this will amplify your anxiety and then plunge you off the cliff. This will not help your anxiousness and put your heartbeat into overdrive. Instead start practicing calming, meditative strategies where you can learn to quiet the body and mind down. You may even have to learn to shut off your mind from all the negative chatter it provides about how you will fail at every speaking attempt you try or send yourself into a full blown panic attack. Learn to tell yourself that you are capable, confident and well prepared and keep control of your thoughts so they will not derail your performance.

Students in public speaking classes are always surprised at the end of the semester how far they have come in their ability to create and deliver an effective presentation, even though they doubted their abilities of ever being able to perform in the beginning. Millions of people have learned to give presentations in front of an audience successfully and you can learn to do it too. Take the steps one at a time and practice the content until you are familiar and confident with the words you will be reciting.


Last step is putting it all together. So until next time remember your words create your world.