Do you remember the first time you had to speak before an audience? Or the last time? Were you afraid or nervous? You are not alone. Around 10% of the population are terrified even by the thought of public speaking. Another 10% love speaking in front of a huge crowd. The rest of the population are somewhere in the middle, they get butterflies, they get anxious but they still come to every Toastmasters meeting because they know that practice makes perfect.
The fear of public speaking we experience is adrenaline-based and we can learn to cope with it. We just need to improve our Emotional intelligence because this is what determines how we respond to our emotions.
Emotional intelligence is a huge topic and I would like to focus on only 2 aspects of it: self-awareness and self-management.
- Self-awareness is the ability to accurately perceive your own emotions in the moment and understand your tendencies across different situations.
- Self-management, on the other hand, is the ability to use your self-awareness of your emotions to stay flexible and direct your behavior positively.
So how can we apply self-awareness and self-management to tame our public speaking fears?
The first step is to determine what emotions we are experiencing at the time. Sometimes this is not so easy, there are many people who find it very difficult to determine or admit to how they feel. Be mindful and remember that there are no good or bad emotions. It is fine to say that you are feeling nervous. Probably it is not a good idea to say it when you come on stage, though!
The second step is to understand what we tend to do in such situations. Some people will go in front of the crowd and will speak very fast just to get it over with as soon as possible. Some people will get happy-feet and will just keep on moving aimlessly… like I did during my first speech. Some people will get very rigid: no gestures, no facial expression, no emotions. If you find it difficult to determine what you are likely to do in a situation where you are nervous, ask people who know you for insights. Or ask some of your audience for feedback after your talk. Being aware of these tendencies is already a great help. If you know that you tend to speak fast, you can focus on improving this and try to keep a normal pace. If you know that you tend to move too much, you can work on that and allow yourself to be comfortable.
The last step is to put self-management into action. Self-management has a lot to do with finding something good in any situation. How can we improve our self-management so that we can direct our behaviour positively? We just need to change our perspective.
One mistake that some people make is to think that they are nervous because they are not good enough at public speaking. “If I was better I would not be so nervous”. On the one hand, this is correct, the more experienced we are, the more confident and less nervous we are. On the other hand, if we think rationally we can see that public speaking is just about standing and speaking, everyone can do this. Even a 2-year-old child can do that and if you don’t, believe me, I invite you to take a ride on the U-Bahn with my son. Yes, everyone can do it and you can do it as well. And just remember that fear is adrenaline-triggered. And adrenaline is released to prepare your body for important situations where you need to react fast and give the best of yourself.
So next time before you go on stage take a moment to evaluate how you feel. Think about what you tend to do in situations that make you nervous and focus on improving your reaction and finally just tell yourself “I am feeling nervous because adrenaline was released so that I can do a great job today!”.