So you have to give a speech? What to do before you panic…

In last week’s post, How do you let go of fear? Give it what it wants, you learned about the mechanism responsible for the fear reaction. You learned that, once your body goes into reaction-mode, it’s a downward spiral.

So, how can you prepare to speak so that your first response isn’t panic?

In groups like toastmasters, speakers can tackle their stage fright, head-on, with repeated practice. As one toastmaster enthusiast wrote: “Smack your fear in the face!” This direct approach can and does work. 

But each person’s experience of fear around public speaking is different. This approach might not work for you. Sometimes repetition, and telling yourself that you can do it, even when you feel like you’re debilitated by it, increases the power fear holds over you even more. Sometimes by trying to pretend, repress or numb yourself to fear, it’s power actually increases. And it comes out in surprising way, at times that is least desirable. Yes, I’m speaking from personal experience.

“The defenses we erect to protect us create the very condition we are trying to avoid.” Alexander Lowen

Plus, once you numb yourself to fear, you also numb yourself to inspiration, joy and sadness (see what Brene Brown has to say about selectively numbing emotion). You cut yourself off from your own vulnerability; and vulnerability is the secret to make an authentic and lasting connection with your audience. 

So, how do you let fear be a valuable source of energy, but don’t let it run the show? 

Give your body what it wants …

Fear will override your body’s natural intelligence and make you go into Fight Flight or Freeze reaction (FFF), especially when you are taken off guard and/or entering into unknown territory. Imagine, for a moment, the difference between a surprise ambush in unknown territory and a carefully plotted offense on your home turf. So, to prepare your body for battle, give it as much information, beforehand, as you can.

If there is one thing I learned in actor training, it is this: if there is a void, your body will fill it with fear.

There are a few things that your body needs in order to feel safe, secure, at home and in control. If you give it these things, you are letting it know that it doesn’t have to go into panic or freeze, that you are OK in this moment and you don’t need to leave.

What does your body want? 

1. A familiar environment. Walk into the space where you will be presenting when it’s empty, let your body feel familiar with how you will get up out of your chair and walk to the podium. Practice looking out at the empty chairs, breathing, and allowing the fear (you will already feel) flow through you.

2. Friends to talk to: Practice your presentation out loud and in front family or friends. Practice, again, by yourself, imagining you’re speaking to that friend. Do it again, but this time, imagine you’re delivering it to someone who might intimidate you. Notice that, even with this extra sensory input, you can do it.

3. Relaxation: Sleep, eat well, drink plenty of water for the days leading up to the presentation. Rehearse for a few minutes everyday, to form a muscle memory of your talk. Take a moment of silence or meditation on the morning of your big day, reminding yourself of your purpose in speaking. Give yourself a neck massage. This stimulates glands in you neck that actually calm your body’s alarm system. 

4. And finally, a good warm up: A soccer player wouldn’t enter the field without first elevating his heart rate and warming up his body. That would be too much of a shock to his system. Similarly, an actor would never walk on stage without first doing a warmup. So, stretch your body, the parts that feels stiff. Stretch your face, your lips and your tongue. Take a few deep breaths with your arms lifted above your head and then curl over slowly, allowing yourself to hang from your waist. On your next exhale, let out a big sigh.

Next up, How stop panic before it starts? Give your mind the information it wants.What do you tell yourself before you stand up in front of an audience to present? How can you change the story that you walk in with? Maybe it’s time to have some answers for your inner critic BEFORE you step up to the mic. 

Need more information on how to fight fear before it starts? Here’s a link to useful body language to use before and during your presentation. More of me!