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The Solution to Stage Fright
By Lance Miller, Toastmasters'
2005 World Champion of Public Speaking
There's a story about a man who is asked to make a choice between speaking in public or having a serious illness. He contemplates the question and then asks, "How serious is the illness?"
According to surveys, fear of public speaking ranks higher for most people than fear of a serious illness or even fear of death. Yet, being an effective public speaker – capable of educating, motivating and inspiring a group – is a key ingredient when it comes to good leadership and good management.
We've probably all had the experience where we've told one person a story, or presented a solution to something, and then were asked to repeat it to a group of people. Remember what a different experience it was delivering the same message to a crowd?
It's not surprising that we can speak to one person without any difficulty. We can give them our attention. We can watch their body language, expressions, and reaction to our communication. We can easily adjust our delivery according their reaction. But add just 1-2 more people to the equation, and the dynamic changes dramatically. Now we need to spread our attention over 2-3 people, watching 2-3 sets of body language, expressions, and reactions. It becomes more difficult to have the same level of communication that we had with just the one person. Add 50-500 more people, and the dynamic shifts exponentially.
There are numerous theories regarding why stage fright occurs. The how and why can be debated among the experts, but one thing is certain. It is not caused by a fear of a hostile audience, as stage fright occurs with even the most friendly and sympathetic audiences. It is something that exists on the speaker's side of the equation.
Over many years of speaking and personal coaching, I have been asked for magic cures and secret solutions to address people's fear of public speaking. They hoped that there was some "thing" they could do privately at home, without having to speak in front of a group, which would forever cure their stage fright. This is like saying, "Teach me to be a great basketball player, but I don't want to touch a basketball."
After 15 years of public speaking and delivering over 1,000 speeches in more than 20 countries, there is only one solution I know of for stage fright. That solution is frequent public speaking. There is no silver bullet, no magic pill, or self-actualized-mental-exercises that I've found to resolve speaking jitters and the tongue-tied mental blankness of stage fright.
Speaking is a skill that you will lose if you don't use it. Even after years of speaking, if I don't speak for a few months, I find the pre-speaking jitters and the on-stage mental molasses creeping back in. But after a few speeches or presentations, I'm back on top of my speaking game.
Here are some tips that I use to assist with public speaking anxiety:
1. Accept that being nervous about speaking before a group is natural.
2. Practice and drill your speech or presentation until you know it completely.
3. Get excited about your message!
4. Get comfortable with the room where you'll be speaking.
5. Speak to one person at a time.
To handle stage fright permanently, find a speaking group or club so you can speak on a regular basis. The best organization I know of and the one that I personally use is Toastmasters. This is an international organization with over 10,000 clubs in 90 countries. The clubs are fun and friendly environments that teach and practice communication and leadership skills. You can locate a club in your area by visiting their official website, www.toastmasters.org.
Hopefully you've gained some tools from this article that will assist you the next time you're speaking before a crowd. Remember, everyone in your audience is pulling for you, and best of luck!
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