BY JOANA POCAS

Fear of public speaking is something that happens to almost everybody at one time or another. Does this story sound familiar: Minutes before going on stage, you start to feel nervous, your heart’s beating faster, you’re blushing, your breathing speeds up, your body temperature’s rising and fear is taking over. Your focus is no longer on what really matters, getting the message across and attracting and retaining the audience’s attention. You try desperately to calm down, while at the same time you try to start your presentation. Clearly, this is not an ideal situation.

And this is why it’s so important to know how to overcome a fear of public speaking. The most effective way to do this is by understanding what goes on in the body when we’re getting ready to make a presentation. When we know that we’ll be exposed to various critical eyes, we naturally tend to fear the situation. This is because, as the animals we are, we perceive exposure as threat. This is fact: the first thing our unconscious tells us before we make a public appearance: we’re exposing ourselves to threat.  And when we feel threatened, a series of biochemical reactions takes place in the body that serve precisely to help us get out of the threat situation.

The 3 reactions of the body to threat situations are:

1 – Adrenaline rises

Adrenaline is a hormone that’s produced automatically by the body when we’re in danger. Adrenaline prepares the body for great physical effort, stimulating the heart and increasing blood pressure. Here, our animal side is preparing to flee, to run and escape the supposed “danger.” At this moment we cease to be in the “world of ideas” in which the presentation takes place and we’re

instead in an “animal world” where we can control only our basic thoughts. And so we start to feel nervous and anxious.

2 – Breathing becomes rapid

When we feel threatened, we start to breathe too quickly, and sometimes in an uncontrolled way, which prevents us from being able to speak clearly. (This is another effect of an adrenaline increase.)

3 – The blood flows to the lower limbs

Instead of most of the blood rushing to the brain, so we can focus on the presentation and on our role as presenter, most of the blood is flowing to the legs, so that we can, once again, flee the “danger.” It is for this reason that we see so

many inexperienced presenters bouncing around from side to side, not able to be still and making movements that aren’t relevant to the presentation content. These are the reactions we experience when we start a presentation and the situation is perceived as a threat. And two things can happen:

Hypothesis 1 – We start presenting and we realize that we’re in control of the situation and everything is going well because we’ve trained well enough for the presentation. At this point, adrenaline starts to go down, breathing begins to normalize and blood moves back to the brain. We return to the “world of ideas” and we focus on the presentation and on our role as presenter.

Hypothesis 2 – We forget the content and script of the presentation and everything starts to not work at all. We don’t get the audience’s attention, we can’t get our message across, we speak in an uncoordinated way and we start reading the slides. We feel that we aren’t dominating the situation and that we’re losing our opportunity. And the biochemical reactions described above start to deepen. So that this second scenario never happens to you again, if it has already, we have three great tips:

The 3 most effective ways to overcome a fear of public speaking are:

1 – View the presentation as an opportunity

Instead of viewing a presentation or speech as a threat, we must consciously force ourselves to see it as an opportunity.

When we feel we have an opportunity, we experience feelings like: motivation, euphoria, animation, and contentment . . . only positive feelings. In this way we can leave the “animal world” for the “world of ideas,” where we can focus

on the message we want to convey.

2 – Have the presentation well-rehearsed

After mastering the content of the presentation, after knowing the script, after knowing the order and content of the slides, after having rehearsed several times, we’ll see that there’s no reason to be nervous, because the feelings of accomplishment and total control are the dominant feelings.

3 – Breathe slowly Minutes before the presentation, we need to start breathing deeply and slowly. This enables the brain to be oxygenated enough that we can focus on what really matters: winning the audience and getting the message across. During the presentation we should continue to breathe in a calm way and speak slowly. In this manner we’re also conveying confidence while giving ourselves time to think and the audience time to digest the information we’re conveying.

Now that you know the secrets of controlling your fear of public speaking, regard your next presentation as a great opportunity, and you’ll see how well everything will go.

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