Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Building Your Speaking Confidence

Q: Have you ever stood up in front of an audience, only to find that your palms are cold and clammy, your breath has escaped you, and you can’t even remember what you will be talking about?

What you may not know is that everyone experiences this at some point in his or her public speaking development. People report all kinds of anxiety: “quavering voice, shaky hands, changes in body temperature, itchy skin, dry mouth, the mind going blank, increased heart rate, shortness of breath, increased rate of speech, trembling legs, sweaty palms, or cold hands and feet” (Coopman & Lull, 2012, p. 25). Fortunately, much work has been done on speaking anxiety, and many useful strategies have been developed to address this issue.  Below you will find three techniques for reducing public speaking anxiety and building your speaking confidence.

•    Relaxation techniques- diaphragmatic breathing and meditation breathing. These types of breathing focus on helping the body to relax from the inside out. We already know that simply taking a single deep breath can change our perspective on something that is momentarily frustrating; what we need to remember is that deep meditative breathing can also do this on a more lasting basis.

Try it at home: Coopman and Lull (2012) suggest, “Sit or stand with your feet flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart. With your hands just below your rib cage, breath in with an exaggerated yawn while pushing your abdomen out. Exhale slowly and gently, letting your abdomen relax inward” (p. 29). Do this for five or ten minutes on the morning of your speaking event, then focus on breathing throughout the day and during your actual speech.

•    Relabeling- rethinking or relabeling the physical and mental reactions that we experience in response to speaking anxiety. Some of us are familiar with this already and do this as a part of our normal routine. This may mean simply monitoring your thoughts, selecting for the negative thoughts, and then reframing them in your mind.

Try it at home: Coopman and Lull (2012) suggest, “Say to yourself, ‘I’m really excited about giving this speech!’ rather than, ‘I’m so nervous about giving this speech’. Your anxiety won’t magically disappear, but relabeling puts your response to public speaking in a positive light and can increase your ability to manage your anxiety” (p. 30).

•    Visualization- success via imagination. Remember when we were kids, and all we had to do was imagine we were in a far off fantasyland… then voilĂ ; play time became an exciting and fulfilling dream world. Okay, maybe that’s a bit flowery, but can’t we all relate to dreaming of success? Well, this is the key to visualization. Picture things going right rather than wrong, and you might be surprised how things seem to fall into place as they happen in real time.

Try it at home: The morning of your speech, find somewhere quiet and sit or lay in a comfortable position. Once you are calm and have focused your attention on your breathing, begin the visualization process. Visualize the entire speaking process going perfectly; from the moment you step up to the podium, to the moments in between, to the moment you conclude. Note: “keep your visualization positive yet plausible” (Coopman & Lull, 2012, p. 31). In other words, imagine things going right, but keep in mind that right doesn’t necessarily mean perfect. Imagine only what you are capable of, what the situation is capable of; this will keep you from getting down on yourself if you don’t meet your own unreasonably high expectations. Remember: You are enough, You do enough, You have enough.

Coopman, S., & Lull, J. (2011). Public speaking: The evolving art (2nd ed.). Boston, Mass.: Cengage Learning.

Sarah Minnich is the Public Speaking GA for Anderson School of Management and can be contacted here.

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