Afraid Of Public Speaking? Read This.

I hate public speaking. Really, I hate microphones. I've had more than one awkward moment in front of some pretty important people while holding a microphone in my hand. And once, I'm pretty sure the crowd was rooting for me to fail.

Chris Anderson, head of TED, reassures me by phone that all audiences are sympathetic toward nervous public speakers. He should know. Anderson has helped hundreds of people — famous and not-so-famous — prepare to deliver speeches to live audiences in the thousands and digital audiences in the millions. And now, he's distilled all that knowledge into a book,
TED Talks: The Official Guide to Public Speaking.

When I got my hands on a copy, I flipped immediately to the section on controlling your nerves. Ahead, we've reprinted the sage advice from one of the world's most famous public-speaking instructors. I'm still not over my dislike of microphones, but at least now I know some coping mechanisms for next time I have to face my fear.
Fear triggers our ancient fight-or-flight response. Your body is coiled up chemically, ready to strike or flee. This is measurable physically by a huge rise in adrenaline coursing through your bloodstream.

Adrenaline’s great for powering a sprint to safety across the savannah, and it can certainly bring energy and excitement to your stage presence. But too much of it is a bad thing. It can dry up your mouth and tighten your throat. Its job is to turbo-charge your muscles, and if your muscles are not being used, the adrenaline rush may start them twitching, hence the shaking associated with extreme cases of nerves.

Some coaches advise medication in such cases, typically beta-blockers, but the downside is that they can deaden your tone. There are plenty of other counterstrategies to turn all that adrenaline to your advantage. Ahead, read what I recommend.

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Excerpted from TED TALKS: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking © 2016 by Chris Anderson. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
That’s what it’s there for. It will make it easier for you to truly commit to practicing your talk as many times as it takes. In doing that, your confidence will rise, your fear will ebb, and your talk will be better than it otherwise would have been.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
There’s a series of important things you can do before going on stage that really help circumvent the adrenaline rush. The single most important one is to breathe. Breathe deeply, meditation-style. The oxygen infusion brings calm with it. You can do this even if you’re seated in the audience, waiting to be called up. Just take a deep breath right into your stomach, and let it out slowly. Repeat three times more. If you’re offstage and you’re feeling tension surging through your body, it’s worth trying more vigorous physical exercise.

At TED2014, I was super-stressed about the prospect of interviewing Richard Ledgett of the NSA about the Edward Snowden controversy. Ten minutes before the session, I escaped to a backstage corridor and started doing push-ups. And I couldn’t stop. I ended up doing 30% more than I thought was the most I was capable of. It was all adrenaline, and by burning it that way, calm and confidence returned.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
The worst aspect of nerves is when the adrenaline sucks the water from your mouth and you struggle to speak. Controlling the adrenaline is the best antidote, but it’s also good to make sure you’re fully hydrated. Five minutes before you go on, try to drink a third of a bottle of water. It’ll help stop your mouth from getting dry. (But don’t do this too early. Actor Salman Khan did, and then had to rush to the men’s room just before his introduction. He was back in the nick of time.)
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
When you’re nervous, eating may be the last thing you want to do, but an empty stomach can exacerbate anxiety. Get some healthy food into your body an hour or so before you’re on, and/or have a protein bar handy.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Audiences embrace speakers who are nervous, especially if the speaker can find a way to acknowledge it. If you flub or stutter a little in your opening remarks, it’s fine to say, “Oops, sorry, a little nervous here.” Or, “As you can see, I don’t do a lot of public speaking. But this one mattered too much to turn down.” Your listeners will begin rooting for you even more.

At a packed Sydney Opera House, singer-songwriter Megan Washington confessed to the TEDx audience that she had battled all her life with the stutter they could hear. Her honesty and initial awkwardness made the song she flawlessly performed all the more glorious.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Early on in the talk, look out for faces that seem sympathetic. If you can find three or four in different parts of the audience, give the talk to them, moving your gaze from one to the next in turn. Everyone in the audience will see you connecting, and the encouragement you get from those faces will bring you calm and confidence. Maybe even ensure that some of your actual friends are seated around the auditorium. Speak to them. (As an aside, speaking to friends will help you find the right tone of voice, too.)
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
If you’re worried about things going wrong, plan a few backup moves. You fear you might forget what you were going to say? Have notes or a script within reach. (Ocean rower and environmental advocate Roz Savage had hers tucked inside her shirt. No one minded at all when she lost her way a couple of times and referred to them.) Scared the technology may go wrong and you’ll have to vamp? Well, first of all, that’s the organizers' problem, not yours, but no harm in having a little story to tell if you need to fill in; all the better if it’s personal. “While they sort that out, let me share with you a conversation I just had with a taxi driver...” or, “Oh, this is great. Now I have a chance to mention to you something I had to cut from the talk for time reasons...” Or, “Great, we have a couple of extra minutes. So let me ask a question of you. Who here has ever...”
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Monica Lewinsky’s suggestion to write "THIS MATTERS" on your notes is wonderful. This is the single biggest piece of advice I can give you. It’s not about you, it’s about the idea you’re passionate about. Your job is to be there in service of that idea, to offer it as a gift. If you can hold that in mind as you walk onto the stage, you’ll find it liberating.
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