Make Public Speaking Your Super Power in the New Year: Tips for managing speaking anxiety
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    Make Public Speaking Your Super Power in the New Year: Tips for managing speaking anxiety

    The arrival of a new year provides a great opportunity to take on new challenges and address long-standing phobias. And for most of us, the fear of speaking in public reigns supreme. So as you create your goals for this New Year, I invite you to resolve to manage the fear you likely feel when presenting in high stakes communication situations (e.g., presentations, meetings, panels, etc.).

    What follows are five academically validated anxiety management techniques you can employ throughout the year to help you feel more at ease about your presenting.

    To help you remember these techniques, I will use the acronym BRAVE.

    Breathe. Take time to breathe slowly and deeply. “Belly breathing”—filling your lower abdomen by inhaling slowly through your nose and filling your lower abdomen —can reduce your nervous symptoms (e.g., lowering heart rate, calming your jittery stomach, etc.). Additionally, to quiet the mental noise that anxiety often causes slowly count to three as you inhale and then again as you exhale. Focus your attention on the counting. Repeat this type of breathing several times.

    Recite your core message. Most people fear forgetting. One way to bolster your confidence is to make sure you know your central point well. You should be able to repeat your core message in one clear, concise declarative sentence. Say this to yourself a few times. Being confident that you know your key point will help you feel confident that you are prepared to speak. Also, if you do forget a part of your presentation, restating your central point should help you get back on track.

    Acknowledge your jitters. The physical, emotional, and mental anxiety reactions you likely experience prior to speaking are typical. These sensations do not show anything beyond your body’s normal response to something that is threatening. Avoid giving these natural responses special significance. In fact, you can greet or accept these reactions by saying to yourself: “Here are those anxiety feelings again. It makes sense that I feel nervous; I am about to speak in front of people.” This type of acknowledgement is empowering and dampens your anxiety response. Further, you can reframe these normal anxiety sensations as examples that you are actually excited to deliver your message.

    Vocally warm up. Being anxious can wreak havoc on your voice. Relax your voice and yourself by vocally warming. An athlete would not begin his or her sport without stretching, nor should you begin speaking with out preparing your voice. Start by drinking some warm water. Next, speak your core message out loud. Finally, repeat tongue twisters, such as “I slit a sheet. A sheet I slit. And, on that slitted sheet, I sit.” In addition to tongue twister getting your voice prepared, they also help you become present oriented so that you worry less about the future consequences of your presentation (e.g., getting the job, being funded, having your idea supported, or achieving the good grade).

    Expect success. To often, speakers worry about making mistakes and messing up, rather than embracing their speaking opportunity. When you think that you have a great chance to share your ideas, you are likely to feel positive, which in turn, makes you more empowered and relaxed. The more relaxed you are, the more likely you are to give a good presentation. You are using self-fulfilling prophecy to obtain a positive outcome. One way to capitalize on this self-fulfilling prophecy is to use positive affirmations. As you prepare a presentation, you should create some positive affirmations that are relevant and meaningful to you. Before you speak, you can say one of these affirmations. Affirmations should not be long sayings or contain too many concepts. Research on sports performance has found that simple, one-word mantras (e.g., “focus,” “calm,” “fun”) confer benefits because they eliminate overthinking and reduce negative self-fulfilling prophecies.

    By being BRAVE and taking the time to focus on managing your communication anxiety, you position yourself to be a confident communicator in the year ahead!