11 Rules for Public Speaking with Social Anxiety
Forbes suggests roughly 80% of people feel anxiety before public speaking. Public speaking with social anxiety is such a common issue, world-famous comedian Seinfeld made a joke about it, “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
Public speaking is more common in our everyday lives then one might think. People present at work meetings, open mics, or simply when introducing themselves to a new group of people.
Learning to perform in public can be an exciting and rewarding process. To present like the greats, it’s best to start with the 11 rules they followed.
1. Keep your Chin up, Literally
Have you heard of the saying, if you keep your head down you might as well frown? Always keep your chin raised above your Adam’s apple, and/or collarbone. It might feel like you’re over tilting your neck in bourgeois fashion; that’s completely normal. This helps maintain eye contact with your audience. Use of eye contact is a powerful way to connect with your audience. Avoiding eye contact may take away from your message, especially in more intimate settings.
Many types of research from many body language experts strongly suggest a stronger posture inspires confidence and reduces stress. Amy Cuddy, a Harvard researcher that studies body language conducted a study on high power poses. Her study showed high power poses temporarily increased testosterone by 20 percent and decreased cortisol levels by 25 percent.
2. Pace Yourself
Speaking too fast is a common habit for those with public speaking anxiety. Many people fear the sound of silence in a conversation. Some people may notice upon meeting someone for the first time they feel obligated to keep a conversation going, to avoid an awkward silence. However, when with a close friend, there’s no such thing as an awkward silence.
During public presentations, silence is your friend. Give the audience time to listen and then digest information. Believe it or not, humans are terrible multi-taskers. Arthur Markman, a psychology professor at the University of Texas claims, “There’s a small number of people who are decent multitaskers — this concept of a ‘supertasker’ — but at best, it’s maybe 10 percent of the population, so chances are, you’re not one of them,”
Slow and steady speaking is the key to verbal communication. Even people that eat quickly digest less of their food, compared to slower eaters that chew more of their food. Also, brief pauses give you more time to compose your sentences. Speaking too fast can give results lower than your potential.
For example, you’re proposing an idea to improve efficiency at a company meeting. You’ve practiced all week for this presentation. This includes perfecting key points and preparing responses to possible questions. After the meeting, you feel confident that this proposal will help the company and move you closer to a promotion.
Unfortunately, there is no action taken on your proposal. Even though you presented all the benefits of your plan. Because they failed to digest (fully understand) your ideas. You might notice that the best ideas are not always listened to, because no matter how great an idea is, or how funny a joke is if it’s incomprehensible then the value becomes moot. A key tip to stop speaking too quickly is to pause after every 1-2 sentences. Helping listeners comprehend the value behind your words.
This is a great example of pacing done by stand-up comedians. Chris James for example.
Realize that the audience only laughs after he pauses. A longer pause results in stronger laughs.
If you have time prepare for a presentation in advance, that’s what you must do. The best cure for public speaking anxiety is knowing what you’re going to say in advance says the author of the self-help book The Anxiety Workbook, Arlin Kuncic.
What does this look like?
List your topics, and put them in order e.g. If you’re selling a car, prepare a mental list of what you’re going to discuss.
Step 1: Talk about Exterior
Step 2: Talk about Interior
Step 3: Discuss maintenance
Step 4: Discuss Payment
I write down a similar list and review it a few times before every presentation. Extremely helpful, especially when I first started. Why? Because having a mental plan/list is your insurance. Forgetting what you were going to say isn’t that big of a deal. You can always improvise on the spot. People have natural conversations every day.
Forgetting what you’re going to talk about is a completely different beast, causing you to possibly get stumped on talking points. Thus, giving you no room to improvise which can completely derail a presentation.
4. Practice the Speech Before Hand
Repetition is important when it comes to building confidence in high-pressure situations. Dr. Ivan Joseph, former athletic director, and soccer coach explains how he developed self-confidence in his players, “The problem is, we expect to be self-confident, but we can’t be unless the skill, or the task we’re doing, is not novel, is not new to us. […] we want to be in a situation where Hey, I’ve done this a thousand times.”
You should strive to be able to recite your future presentation off the top of your head if applicable. Even if you didn’t sleep for 24 hours straight. Hopefully, that’s not a likely scenario. However, repeating from memory is much more difficult with social anxiety. Practicing consistently is important because it lets the logical mind take over. Preventing public speaking anxiety from making you forget the most important points. Memorization helps bring more emotion to the speech.
Practice at game speed. Set a timer and recite your presentation at least 5 times in a row without needing major pauses or errors. Dr, Ivan Joseph emphasizes the importance of practicing at game speed. Because even when you get nervous, you’ll still be able to perform off muscle memory.
5. Speak with Purpose
Try to speak with a clear objective to help avoid rambling. Take on one topic/subject at a time. Repeatedly switching between topics can leave your audience confused and disengaged. Before speaking think to yourself, is this funny, informative, positive, etc.? Do I think this comment will add any type of value? Don’t get caught up in what other people think. Confidence comes from within.
If you believe the words that come out of your mouth are important, that’s what they become. We’ve all been guilty of over complaining, whining, and oversharing just to fill the void of silence. People are interested you say when they realize you consistently provide more value with words. Encouraging more positive conversations for socially anxious.
6. Don’t know what to say? Try Asking the Audience a Question
You’re in the middle of a presentation, mouth dry, brain foggy, you don’t know what to say. No worries, presenting is a difficult job, the hardest working talk show hosts, speak for 4- 5 hours a week.
Try asking an open-ended question, instead of a yes or no question. This engages the audience while giving you time to recollect your thoughts.
Example of questions a presenter might ask when giving a presentation about teenage sleeping habits to a class of teenagers.
Presenter: Why do you think teenagers don’t get much sleep?
Presenter: How should we get teenagers to get more hours?
Presenter: When should we open schools and why?
Presenter: What is a good sleeping environment?
The trick to open-ended questions is asking a question that can’t be solved with one word. Questions that can lead to a story. Never get scared to expand on a question.
Another trick is to make a statement and then asks somebody’s opinion
Presenter: What issues does the younger generation have, that we might not know about?
Teenager: I feel like we barely get enough sleep.
Presenter: Many students argue the stress of completing homework while doing extracurricular activities makes it tough to make time for sleep.
Presenter: What do you think about that?
7. No caffeine: Soda, Energy Drinks, Coffee
Caffeine is a stimulant. Making it difficult to relax and control the pace of a conversation. Because it raises heart rate and makes you jittery.
For those that are already anxious, this could make your sentences incoherent and lead to a higher risk of panic attacks.
8. Look the Part
” When you look good, you feel good. Confidence in what you’re wearing is very important. If you feel good, you will always perform your best without worrying about anything.” – Maria Sharapova
Looking the part is part of the process. it’s much easier to become immersed in your presentation when you’re dressed as who you’re portraying to be.
A study published in 2012 from The Journal of Experimental Science was done to prove the influence of clothes on the wearer’s psychological processes. Research gave a white coat to two groups of participants. They told one group that they were wearing a doctor’s coat and the other group that they were wearing a painter’s coat.
Turns out that both participants wearing the coat experienced an increase in performance on attention-related tasks. The participants that were told it was a lab coat had a bonus of increased sustained attention.
For those that don’t have the money, don’t worry. Here are some essential tips that work for everyone:
- Haircut, or combed/brushed hair
- Clothes: snug fit, no stains, no wrinkles (strongly recommended)
- Brushed teeth
- Clean shoes
- Smell pleasant: deodorant, showering, cologne (If
If you still need help finding a dressing style, this is the greatest advice ever given to me. Find a TV show character that you admire and mimic their dressing style.
9. Come Prepared
Coming prepared means being prepared to deal with unforeseen circumstances like a corrupted file, or heavy traffic on your way to the location of the presentation.
Make sure you backup all your files to a cloud-based service. Allowing you to present from any device. During my presentation in high school, I nearly failed because my computer decided to update mid presentation.
Try to have your presentation props and/or PowerPoint set up the day before to ensure it works. Also, set it up 5-10 minutes before time to present (if applicable).
I can’t tell you how many times this helped me when I realized 5 minutes before a presentation I forgot to add something small, like my group members names.
10. Get Feedback
You finally got it over with. Now all you want to do is go home and curl up into the fetal position. Now, here comes the helpful part.
Try asking for feedback from an honest friend or co-worker that was watching. This is important to do as soon possible while the memory is still fresh in their head.
They’ll share your strengths and weaknesses. You’ll be great at presentations in no time if you keep improving one step at a time.
11. Nobody cares, or Notices
Are you worried about making a fool of yourself or screwing up?
Nobody cares. Don’t believe me? Tell me the last three presentations you watched that made you give a negative judgment towards somebody else. Don’t remember right?
When people aren’t positively affected by an event, they tend to forget it. After dealing with work, family, paying bills. People just don’t have the time to think about your presentation.
Presentations are remembered when they are exceptional. The truth is if you can get somebody to remember your presentation Congratulations! You must’ve done a great job.
Thanks for reading. Comment any other presentation tips you have.
Therapy is too expensive for many, and daunting for those with social anxiety. However you can get started with online therapy Monday through Friday for as little as $25 USD a week with this link here. Also, it does fall under insurance coverage for many.
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