I hated talking to strangers. I hated public speaking passionately, with my whole heart. If I had to convey something to just one person. But what if there were a lot of people? I was petrified with public speaking anxiety.
A long time ago, I accidentally became a manager. At that company, our good manager was gone, and so there was no one left. I was appointed to be a bad manager because there simply was no one else to do the management stuff. I had to call clients, discuss their requirements, and make excuses for not meeting deadlines. This was a lot more speaking than I was used to, and it helped me get rid of some of my speech anxiety. With the CEO, we would take his old, yet vigorous, Peugeot and go to meetings where I said clever things, maintained a somewhat relaxed facial expression and tried to be meaningfully silent as much as possible. This experience helped me to learn how to talk to one stranger.
Then I became a programmer, a project manager, a programmer again, and—you knew this by now, huh?—a project manager again. This whole time, I was on the quest to diligently avoid public speaking. Probably, my first semi-public speech I delivered to the team of my own company. It was thrilling, not in a good way. My social anxiety skyrocketed every time. I didn’t hit glass or vomit like the guy in Silicon Valley series S5—however, I was stressed out and always started with a charming trembling voice and a dry mouth.
Then we started to host internal conferences with dozens of people. I was still not quite a great public speaker. And then a guy I knew dragged me to Prime Hall (a huge venue for fancy gatherings) for an event about the future of business. This was my first public appearance—and a real exposure therapy session. I went on stage with a face as red as this emoji: 🎈, my limbs trembling from stage fright. Some way or another, after about five minutes of shaking, I coped with the anxiety and even told the audience some things.
The speech itself did not seem exactly good to me: I didn’t have any skills to work with the audience, and I had no idea how to correctly emphasize what I say. Public speaking is a skill. To be good at it, exercise it.
However, after this public speaking event, I magically stopped worrying about public speaking altogether. Seriously. I’m still not the biggest fan of public speaking, for sure. But ever since that event, I, for some reason, don’t feel psyched anymore when I need to get on stage. I keep breathing, don’t have negative thoughts, and don’t need extra relaxation techniques. The trick is, for nervous speakers, exposure therapy works. It shows you can survive the event.
So here are the tips for overcoming performance anxiety I’ve got for myself.
- To overcome the fear of public speaking, perform in front of a huge audience. Preferably, several times. It’s challenging, terrifying, and requires preparation. But this is the fastest way through the fear.
- Holding a microphone in my hand doesn’t work (for me). This immediately changes my manner of speaking: it destroys my body language, all the casual gesticulation disappears, I feel my body being paralyzed on one side (the one which holds the mic). Solution? Mics you don’t have to hold.
- Rehearsing your presentation at least two or three times is a must. I’m too lazy, though, so I try to get away with just one rehearsal—which isn’t enough. Two is a golden standard. Practice makes perfect, huh.
- I hate delivering the same speech two times. It bores me to the bones. Probably, that’s also the reason I don’t like to rehearse a talk. How do people go to dozens of conferences with one and the same lecture? You tell me, I’ve no idea! My solution is to never repeat myself.
- Self-confidence is really helpful when you need to speak publically. I reached this inner state only well past my twenties. Being confident allows you to be frank, and that’s valued by the audience.
- Frankness helps you to relax and not be afraid of a discussion. A confident speaker who’s fully open doesn’t need to pretend or try to come up with an answer to any question. That takes a lot of pressure off your shoulders. You don’t have to look smart anymore. You just need to come as you are. This immediately makes your talking natural and allows you to honestly say, “I don’t know.”
- Any form of public speaking literally drains all my energy. Even if I’m not worried, after a talk, I feel immensely tired. I’m prepared for it, and so dealing with it is easier every time.
- If you want to convey something to people, public speaking skills are a must. There’s no other way around it. So fix your 🎈-face.