In an interview with 60 Minutes last night, one of the Navy SEALS who killed Osama Bin Laden surprised his interviewer when he said that many of the SEALS slept on the helicopter ride to this mission.
They faced possible death, yet were able to sleep. (Below you’ll learn how the SEALS develop this mindset.)
What does this have to do with fear of public speaking?
Well, surveys find that the number one fear of most people is not death, but public speaking. It makes sense, in a way. You know you’ll die someday, but giving a speech means you may die a thousand deaths—today.
If it’s any comfort, we work with every level of organizations, from CEO’s to frontline managers and the truth is that everyone feels this kind of anxiety in one form or another.
The difference between success and failure is how you manage your fears. Navy SEALS, celebrities and others use these techniques to overcome their fears of all kinds.
Coaching speakers and media spokespersons over many years, I’ve found these to be the most effective secrets to help control anxiety while communicating:
1. See it from your audience’s point of view: realize that your audience doesn’t notice most of the signals of nervousness you feel, like butterflies in your stomach, racing heart, and sweaty palms. Try this: have someone video tape you while you speak. While you may be very nervous, generally on the video you won’t notice the nervousness. Neither does your audience, so relax.
It might surprise you that many celebrities, including Adele, Taylor Swift and Rod Stewart, feel stage fright, but have learned to control their anxiety.
2. Focus more on your mission and less on yourself. Being too self-aware may start an internal cycle of escalating tension. Although you may speak comfortably to employees regularly, you may become overly anxious before your annual strategic presentation to senior management. Change your mind-set about the annual event. Complete your presentation two weeks before the delivery date and practice with a focus on one clear objective. This will help you lose your self-consciousness and deliver your best presentation.
Navy SEALS face some of the most anxiety producing situations imaginable—facing death at any moment. They are taught to overcome their fears by focusing on their missions and the specific tasks at hand from moment to moment. This article in Men’s Health details their training and research to support this approach.
3. Prepare well: Nothing will reduce anxiety more than the confidence that comes from knowing you’re fully prepared to communicate—knowing your audience, your messages, and how you plan to convey yourself. View your communications as you would any other business process. Establish expectations and time lines with your staff or yourself and schedule rehearsal time for your presentations.
4. Rehearse: Your confidence also comes from being well trained in delivery and practicing your remarks. Paradoxically, the most skilled communicators continually rehearse their lines until they seem natural and almost spontaneous.
The late Steve Jobs was known for his meticulous preparation, as detailed in this account from someone who worked closely with him on introductions of major Apple products, including the iPhone and Mac Air.
The writer details Jobs’ preparation as:
To a casual observer it is just a guy in a black shirt and jeans talking about some new technology products. But it is in fact an incredibly complex and sophisticated….It represents weeks of work, precise orchestration and intense pressure for the scores of people who collectively make up the “man behind the curtain”.
5. Don’t expect perfection: Due to their competitive personalities, business people often will create an unwarranted expectation of perfection for themselves in making a speech or doing a media interview. Ease up. For all of us our communications will continue to be a work in progress. The more you practice, and deliver, the better you’ll get. And the less anxious you will be.
6. Understand your role: In any communications setting, if you have not properly defined your role, you will be at a loss for how to communicate. Are you introducing someone? Are you doing a keynote? What does your audience expect of you? Once you understand your role, you’ll feel more comfortable about how and what to communicate.
7. Breathe. Tension tends to constrict breathing. Take several deep breaths before you begin speaking. It also helps to practice relaxation exercises regularly. Exercise earlier in the day can also help to relax your body.
You’ll never eliminate anxiety entirely—and that’s okay. The key is to control your anxiety and transform it into energy that will drive you and your presentation to deliver effectively for your audience.
What techniques do you use to control your fears and anxiety?
Send this on to your anxious friends and share your response below.
Learn more about improving your presentation skills.