The public speaking guide for people with anxiety
In my mind, public speaking is synonymous with panic attacks, sleepless nights, and a whole lot of pronounced anxiety. Now, I am a naturally anxious person, which, basically, means that stressing out is one of my not-so-hidden talents. But—oh, man—when it comes to public speaking, my anxiety becomes an unstoppable monster.
When I was in high school and my public speaking panic attacks were at an all-time high, I would do whatever it took to avoid having to do it. I would schedule doctor’s appointments when I knew I’d have to speak in class. I would beg my teacher to let me create a podcast, so that I could record my voice ahead of time and simply press play. And, most often, during group projects, I would do most/all of the actual work if the rest of my group promised that I wouldn’t have to speak at the end of it all. Yeah, I was desperate.
Sadly, my teachers had me figured out and showed no mercy. My excuses and avoidance tactics didn’t always work out, and I would—sigh—have to speak in front of the class. While praying that my deodorant would hold up against my anxiety sweats, I’d say to myself, “Anna, it’s only thirty people. It’s not like you’re speaking in front of thousands of people. You can do this.” And I did. It wasn’t perfect, but I did it.
. . . And then, I had to speak in front of thousands of people. I was the salutatorian of my high school class and there was no getting out of it. There was no way they’d let me podcast my way to the finish line. As someone who could barely speak in front of thirty people, I was a wreck.
Even though my preparation for this event was not at all glamorous (I cried more than I’d care to admit), I learned a lot about how anxious people (like myself) can become better at public speaking. Here are just a few tips.
Write a script.
No matter what the situation, it always helps to calm your anxiety if you have a script prepared.
If you have a script, you can memorize it, or get a general idea of what it says. When you know what you’re going to say, you’re not jumping into the unknown. And when you’re not jumping into the unknown, you don’t have as much to be anxious about.
Even if a script doesn’t feel comfortable to you, make some notecards. Create bullet points that outline the ideas you don’t want to forget when speaking. If you’re presenting a PowerPoint, use the notes section of your presentation. And, don’t forget, you can always practice in front of a mirror beforehand so that you get a feel for what you’ll be doing when the time comes.
Watch your favorite performances or speeches.
If there is a performer that you admire or a particular speech that blew you away, watch it before you are due to speak. While watching this performance/speech, remember that everyone gets nervous. Remember that whoever you are watching was nervous before they went out on stage or up to the microphone. Even though they were nervous, they did what they intended to do and you can, too.
Before my graduation speech, I watched Beyoncé’s Superbowl performance on repeat because I’d always admired her confidence and her positive energy (and because that performance made my soul soar). In watching her, it was almost as if some of her confidence transferred over to me, making me feel ready to speak publicly. If Beyoncé was nervous and could still do an amazing performance, then I could too (on a much smaller scale, of course).
So many people believe that public speaking has to be this structured, regimented activity. In other words, people believe that you have to sound a certain way or act a certain way so that you can impress people or get a good grade. Personally, I believe that this is why so many people find public speaking to be so stressful.
When I was writing my graduation speech, I wrote what I wanted to say. I wrote my speech as myself, not as who I wanted everyone to believe I was. I wrote it without caring what anyone else would think. I wrote something that I would be proud of.
This was the first speech that I’d written as my true self, without watering it down to please everyone else or to get a 100% in participation. The result: public speaking was SO MUCH FUN! I knew what I was going to say and how I was going to say it because it was coming from a place of genuine honesty. Because of this, in the minutes before, during, and after, I never once felt anxious. Instead, I felt exhilarated.
Embrace your worries.
Even though I wasn’t nervous during my graduation speech, I was incredibly nervous during the weeks leading up to what I thought would be “Anna’s Most Embarrassing Moment of All Time: Graduation Edition.”
Whenever I felt nervous about public speaking, I had to remind myself that it was okay to be nervous. That it was normal and that there was nothing wrong with me. In doing so, I was attempting to prevent myself from further worrying about my worries. I was trying to accept that it was ok to be nervous, and that it didn’t mean I was destined to fail.
Going a step further, I even talked about my anxiety in my speech. I mentioned how nervous I was to be speaking in front of a large crowd, made a joke about it, and moved on. When owning your anxiety, nothing feels better than talking about it. Talk about it with friends, with your family, with a school counselor or therapist, or even with your teacher. Get it out in the open so that it’s not weighing on you. Trust me, you’ll feel much better.
Anxiety, stress, worrying, self-doubt, and fear of failure are all normal. Everyone experiences all of these feelings, even if they don’t care to admit it. So, if you’re worried about public speaking, don’t worry about how you’re feeling! Take a deep breath and remember that this happens to everyone. All of your peers are probably worried about having to speak in front of others, as well.
Overall, public speaking is both scary and intimidating. But, what’s even worse is letting it get the best of you, especially because it won’t matter in a few days (or even a few seconds). As long as you realize just how great you are and how much people will benefit from hearing what you have to say, that is all that matters. Remember: your voice is important.
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