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Winning The Never-Ending Battle With Stage Fright -- Some New Remedies

 


Working with clients on stage fright I use a number of approaches, some of which involve embracing the adrenaline, and some of which involve minimizing it. My personal favorite is to embrace the symptoms that adrenaline produces and tell yourself that it means that you’re about to do something exciting, and that your body is now geared up to do it.
But that’s because I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie, and some clients prefer to calm themselves down a little instead. So we work on breathing, and other relaxation techniques, as well as mental imagery.
Now a Harvard Business School study of speakers finds that telling yourself “I am excited,” gets better results than trying to calm yourself down. Those speakers who jazzed themselves up were more fluent, relaxed and in the zone than those who tried the opposite.

Perhaps these were all extroverts, and introverts are still better off calming themselves down. I personally think that the best approach is the one that gets you through; one size probably doesn’t fit all in speech anxiety despite what Harvard says.
So, with that in mind, here are a few more tips that clients and I have tried and found helpful in the never-ending battle between nerves and public speaking.
1.Get Fit. Especially if you’re on the high end of the anxiety scale, getting some exercise beforehand is a great way to slough off some of the extra jitters. Don’t overdo it, though. You want to be calm, but not exhausted, when you stand up to speak. So exercise early but gently, and leave some energy in your batteries. This is not the time to run a marathon.
2. Meditate. Some form of meditation which involves sitting and paying attention to your breathing, or repeating a mantra over and over, or just quietly watching your thoughts, can be very helpful. But don’t try meditating for the first time the hour before your speech. Mind control won’t work when you’re agitated; you need to have already begun such a practice long before D-Day.
3. Tense and release. A simple technique you can use without much preparation is to stand somewhere quietly and tense and release your muscle groups in some order you establish. Start with your toes, for example, tense them, release them, and work your way up your body. If you do this exercise with enough attention you’ll ground yourself nicely and prepare yourself well. It’s a good daily habit in any case.
4. Breathe. Of course. I should hardly have to mention this one, but I still run across people who don’t know how to belly breathe and prepare themselves for speaking in a powerful, commanding voice. So take air in by expanding your belly like an eye dropper. Don’t lift your shoulders. Then push the air out gently using your abdominals. It’s simple enough, once you get the hang of it, but it’s the opposite to the way you breathe normally, without thinking.
5. Get your thoughts under control. This exercise is another one that only works if you practice it before you need it. Under stress, the mind hops around crazily, veering off into the “oh no it’s going to be a disaster because” scenarios that make the physical symptoms worse. What you do is start a positive set of thoughts going, and you answer the negative ones every time they come up. “This speech is going to be a success because I’ve done my homework, I know the audience, and I’ve prepared….”
Whether you are extroverted or introverted, whether you ride your excitement like a surfer on the big wave, or seek to avoid excitement, these habits will help you find control in high-stress situations.
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