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If you were at a funeral, would you rather be giving the eulogy than receiving it?
This question seems absurd at first. Giving a speech is better than dying…right? Well, according to the National Institute of Mental health, 75% of the population ranks public speaking as their worst fear, even over death itself. As the comedian Jerry Seinfeild once put it, “This means to the average person, if you have to be at a funeral, you would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy!”
One of the main reasons why public speaking is so scary to people is that it involves taking a big social risk. It might feel that any kind of failure could permanently tarnish your reputation. But in reality, nobody cares as much as you’re inclined to think they do.
Think back to a time you gave some sort of class presentation. While you might remember exactly how your presentation went, good or bad, chances are that you don’t really remember every other speech given that day.
Another big problem could be that the pressure of memorizing the entire speech gets to you. Rote memorization is boring to practice, and if you mess up at some point in your speech you may not be able to regain your composure and continue.
A better method is to memorize the structure of your speech, rather than each and every sentence. Organize the sections of your speech you will run through and as you practice, notice what you’ll talk about in each section and any key points you need to say. On the day of your speech, you can comfortably run through these sections and points without getting hung up on each and every word.
Before you begin speaking, you need to remind yourself that your speech isn’t about you, it’s about your audience. Whether it’s an entertaining, informative, or persuasive speech that you’re giving, you are giving the speech to contribute something to the audience’s lives.
While you are speaking, it may feel really hard to make eye contact with people. Therefore, it seems like the best of course of action would be to remain focused on something else “until you adjust.” But in actuality, it’s much better to rip off the bandage in this situation. A good way to get better at making direct eye contact is to keep forcing yourself to do it until it becomes second nature and you see your audience as humans.
Another important point to remember is that well, no matter how good you get at public speaking, speech anxiety is not completely “destroyable”. (Yes, the title of this article may be a bit of a misnomer.) All speakers experience some form of nerves before their presentations. While you can’t eliminate it completely, it’s important to acknowledge your fear and even take advantage of it. Try to channel your nerves into your enthusiasm.
The next time you feel a wave of panic before your speech, keep in mind that you’re not alone. Acknowledge your fear and turn it into your secret weapon!