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Master Your Inner Fears
by Speaking Tips | March 1, 2004
An audience forms an impression in the first few seconds as the speaker approaches the speaking arena. What the audience wants to see is a person who appears confident and at ease. Nervous people, on the other hand, make them uncomfortable and less likely to listen to and absorb the material being presented. A confident, relaxed presenter connects with the audience and starts positive feelings flowing immediately.
Here are five ways to overcome your fear of public speaking and to become more positive and confident in yourself and your presentation skills. Start by realizing that pressure is something you put on yourself. You have the power to rid yourself of doubt and fear by acquiring a repertoire of techniques aimed at mastering your inner self. These include relaxation exercises, posture, visualization, aromatherapy and attire.
Relaxation is critical for speakers. It removes excessive tension which negatively impacts the respiratory, digestive, muscular and circulatory systems, and generally impairs performance by literally tying up the body in knots.
Relaxation exercises are useful to ward off last minute anxiety attacks while you are waiting at the head table to begin your presentation. Speakers are often seated at a table with a cloth that hides the lower body, so you can concentrate on exercises that involve the feet, legs and lower torso. For example, try tensing each of your muscles briefly in turn and then relaxing it. Deep and slow breathing exercises can also be performed unobtrusively and can be combined with the muscle exercises if you so desire.
Your posture (including your walk) tells the audience how you feel. Upward movements convey enthusiasm and energy. Downward movements suggest weariness and discouragement. You communicate via your posture before you even say the first words. You want to avoid walking to the podium or lectern as if you are part of a funeral procession (this will likely signal the premature death of your presentation). Your body language transmits your emotions. Verbal language conveys words and thoughts. If your body and verbal language contradict each other, the audience will tend to believe your body signals.
Most people learn how to smile to their advantage for the camera at any early age. They can do it on cue. You can learn to assume a relaxed posture on cue the same way you learned to smile - by practice and feedback. Start by determining what is your relaxed posture by observing yourself in the mirror or on video. After you learn the posture, learn the related walk. Actually, this is fairly easy because most of the time you are unconsciously relaxed. Notice your posture and walk as you enter a room in everyday life. Ask for feedback from your friends and family.
You can achieve a confident posture by keeping your knees unlocked, putting one foot slightly ahead of the other, distributing your weight on both feet, keeping your shoulders back, lifting the chin up and keeping the arms at the side with the elbows relaxed.
Visualization is the process of forming pictures in our minds like creating a movie in our heads. When you visualize yourself excelling at an activity, you remove any negative script and harness all your positive energy. Research confirms that visualization can significantly enhance performance.
When you can visualize and imagine your performance clearly, doing it for real is like reliving a memory. For speakers, this includes seeing yourself as you appear in a favorite photograph where you look fabulous and exude confidence or hearing your voice on an audio tape.
The night before a performance is a likely time to get an "panic attack," especially if travel and jet lag are involved. Take along a tape recorder with a tape of yourself delivering your speech for reassurance and another tape with relaxation sounds or soothing music to lull you to sleep.
Certain odors are known to relax the body and are used by hospitals to relax patients before undergoing exploratory procedures that might make them nervous. These fragrances include, among others, chamomile, jasmine, lavender and pine. You can buy these natural aromatic oils in specialty shops. Many of these shops also sell small vials of combinations of aromas labelled for relaxation purposes. Put the aroma on a kleenex and sniff it inconspicuously.
What to wear is an important consideration for any speaker. What you wear should make you feel secure, confident, and assured. We all have, or certainly should have, an outfit that makes us feel good and that we know makes us look good. This is what you want to wear. If you buy a new outfit immediately before a speaking engagement, you run the risk of feeling physically uncomfortable because you are not yet used to the way if fits or feels on your body. You want to be able to put on your clothes, know you look good, and then forget about what you have on. Make sure you consider both the outside temperature and the likely temperature inside presenatation site.
The final step to consider is your shoes. You will be standing and your feet will be your foundation. An old pair of polished shoes maybe a better choice than a new pair that pinches your toes.
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