Let’s take a moment to picture this.

You’ve been asked to make a speech at work, and you have a day to prepare. Just a 15-minute update, they say… You know the content well; however, you just can’t seem to get your thoughts straight about how to start, or what content to cover, and your stomach is already knotting up.

Maybe you’ll just call in sick… forever.

Your setting might be different or perhaps the amount of time you have to prepare, however, the reality remains the same – speaking in public is up there amongst people’s worst fears.

The thought of the spotlight on you, let alone the presentation itself, can cause us to revert to classic fight or flight behaviour and we can feel incredibly anxious and exposed. Often unconsciously we fear being rejected either for our ideas or as a person.

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To counter-balance these fears we can use mindfulness as an invaluable tool for dealing with the intense scrutiny we feel when we’re in the spotlight. 

Public speaking is a dialogue, two-way communication between yourself and the audience. In the midst of negative self-talk and self-doubt, we interrupt this interaction with the audience by turning our thoughts inwards, disengaging from the audience, which in turn makes us perform worse.

Talk about brain sabotage! 

A simple re-frame is to consider that you are helping your audience by sharing your story, ideas, product or service. It’s not about you – it’s about helping them.

Briohny Williams

Try this simple mindfulness practice and take back control. 

Prepare your content and do a full rehearsal. 

If you’re feeling anxious you may find a rehearsal stressful and try to avoid it altogether, however, under-preparing is likely to make things worse, not better! Run through the entire presentation, with particular focus on the first 3 lines of your introduction and conclusion, as most people are relatively comfortable with “the middle”. Record yourself on the video to watch back and remember, you will likely be a much worse critic than your audience. 

Make real contact with your audience.

Look them in the eyes, know that they want you to do well, and if anxious thoughts start to surface remind yourself that you have been asked to speak because you have the knowledge to do so. Every presentation is a real opportunity to share ideas, get people inspired and get things done. If you’re not aiming for one of these objectives, just print the slides and hand them over to the audience to read!

Start with confidence. 

Use a firm and confident voice that even the back row can hear. Start strong with the first 3 lines (that you have rehearsed to a comfortable, natural delivery) and keep your energy levels high throughout. Look for positive energy in the crowd, a colleague smiling or nodding their head in agreement. 

Learn to go with the flow. 

Technology can fail, someone could drop coffee on your notes, or you have a head cold on the day. None of these factors can actually stop you connecting with the audience and delivering your message. Preparation is so important to achieve this level of calm and confidence when it’s all going wrong around you. If you thought you could skip the first step, time to reconsider!

And Breathe.

Essential for life and public speaking! Practice deep breathing before you begin your presentation to calm your mind and nervous system and remember to build in plenty of pauses in your presentation. This allows time for your audience to absorb your messages and will also limit the chance of breathlessness that can cue an anxious response. 

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Now picture this.

  • The next time you’re approached to prepare a presentation for work/school/the local club you feel a little anxious, as you want to do a great job. 
  • You know where to start this time as you asked a couple of clarifying questions to get to the objective of the presentation, and you feel confident to prepare good content. 
  • Once you’ve drafted the presentation you set about rehearsing and refining until you’re happy with the content and delivery. You hate seeing yourself on video, however, you can see that you’ve improved each time you’ve rehearsed and you’re finishing within the time that you’ve been given on the agenda. 
  • On the day, you feel some of the old reactions in your body and remind yourself that people want to see you do well and you have the knowledge to deliver on this topic.
  • Because you have a more relaxed mindset when you begin, you remember your opening lines and get a laugh from the audience. Thankfully, the joke was planned!

It may be incredibly hard to imagine a day when this could be you. 

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The anxiety around public speaking is real, however, if you want (or need) to make presentations, speeches, pitches, do fundraising or promote your business, new ways of thinking and a few new practices could be the change your brain is looking for.