Do you get scared when you have to deliver a presentation? Do you have a fear of public speaking? Then this top 3 list is for you.
After scouring over scientific research, field testing many techniques, and watching hundreds of speakers succeed at managing their fear, we’ve developed a best-of-the-best list. Here are our top 3 research-backed strategies to fight presentation anxiety.
This technique has been used to effectively treat many forms of anxiety and trauma, not just fear of public speaking. It is based on the knowledge that we can change our brain patterns. That means we have the power to flip the script on our fear. Alison Wood Brooks of Harvard says that simply changing the way we label our feelings can give us “profound control” over the situation. Her research found that our body reacts pretty much the same way when we are excited and when we are afraid. So don’t name public speaking as “scary” or “stressful.” Instead, call it “challenging” or “an exciting opportunity for growth.” As we rename our feelings, we steer our thoughts toward more positive perspectives and outcomes.
This anxiety buster can work wonders when your heart starts to pound and your palms start to sweat. The Navy SEALS use this technique because it is proven to increase both calm and focus. The practice is simple, but effective. Here’s how it works. Breathe in for 4 seconds. Hold your breath for 4 seconds. Breathe out for 4 seconds. Hold your breath for 4 seconds. Then repeat until you feel more in control. U.S. Navy SEAL and founder of SEALFIT, Mark Divine, says he practices box breathing regularly. Divine likes this technique because you can practice it anywhere and it doesn’t make you too energetic or too calm. Instead, he says box breathing will “make you very alert and grounded, ready for action.” To fight your fear of public speaking, try breathing in this pattern for a couple of minutes before you have to present.
I have a friend who uses exposure therapy in her clinical practice. She called me one day and said, “want to guess where I just was?” I made a few unsuccessful guesses and then she said, “in an empty trash dumpster. I just had a session with a client in a dumpster.” Turns out, the client was deathly afraid of germs. As part of the client’s treatment, my friend was using exposure therapy to help her patient learn that she could, in fact, survive germs. The American Psychological Association says that exposure therapy can help the patient (or public speaker) decrease fear, become more comfortable with fear, and realize that “he/she is capable of confronting his/her fears and can manage the feelings of anxiety.”
Now, a therapy session in a dumpster is a bit extreme. But it’s not all that different from what I do when I coach people on becoming better speakers by asking them to endure an impromptu speech. They draw a quote from the envelope. Then, they have 3 minutes to write a 3 to 5-minute speech which they will deliver as soon as the timer goes off. I imagine some of them would have opted to hang out in a dumpster rather than give an impromptu speech given the choice.
These types of strategies, while extreme, are effective. Here’s why. They show you that you will survive. When everything in your body is telling you that you can’t, there is nothing more effective than actually proving to yourself that you can. And the only definitive proof is to actually do it.
We listed these top strategies in a certain order for a reason. Cognitive restructuring allows you to establish new thought patterns about public speaking ahead of time. Box breathing allows you to calm and focus your thoughts in the moments leading up to your presentation. And exposure therapy reminds you that sometimes the only way out is through. These three strategies are a powerful combination that puts you in control of your fear and leads to public speaking success.
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