Nipping anxiety in the bud at your next public speaking event | The Flashcast Files

Nipping anxiety in the bud at your next public speaking event

Published Oct 24, 2019 by Adam Siegel

I suffer from anxiety - not the acute, I can't bare to face society level, more the occassional doomsday irrational catastrophizing kind. For example,  I'm in perfectly good health and may have just run 5 miles that morning, but I'll still wonder as I walk to work: "if I pass out while standing on this street corner, what would happen?" And quietly freaking out about it.

So when it comes to public speaking, which I have to do fairly often as a CEO, my irrational negativity tends to run amok, leading to bouts of anxiety the day I am scheduled to speak, or even the night before.

A lot of people have told me to just ask my doctor for a beta blocker(!) but I'm not really one to try and solve my problems with drugs, so I've looked for other ways to calm myself down before venturing on stage. 

Here are a few things that work for me that you might try if you suffer from anxiety when getting in front of an audience:

Breathe. I personally subscribe to the 4-7-8 breathing technique, which goes something like this:

  • Empty your lungs of air
  • Breathe through your nose for 4 seconds
  • Hold that breath for 7 seconds
  • Exhale forcefully, like you're blowing on a dandelion, for 8 seconds
  • Repeat 5 times

Whenever I'm starting to feel anxious, I'll use this technique, even moments before I'm due to go onstage. It gets my heart rate back down a bit, and centers me. While I'm doing it, I also just try to clear my head and think about what it will be like at the end of my talk, when it has gone well and I can enjoy being done. 

Tell a little joke to start. The start of a presentation can often be awkward and heighten your anxiety, so try making a little joke at the beginning. Not a "Why didn't the shrimp share? Because she was a little shellfish" kind of joke, more something about the material you're about to present or even about where you've been placed on the schedule. "I know I'm talking to you right before lunch, so I'll try to be interesting and fast, and in exchange, try to keep your grumbling stomachs from interrupting me." Yeah it's cheesy, but you'll get a few giggles that will calm you down as you establish a connection with your audience - which is where so much anxiety arises in the first place.

Get there early. If you can, sit in the room ahead of time for the presentation and listen to the presentation in front of you, or just get familiar with the room. Go up on stage, walk the room, sit in a chair in the audience. Just get familiar with your space so it's something you can put out of your mind.

Talk to people in the crowd beforehand. If you're not sequestered backstage, try to meet a few people that will be attending your talk. This way you have established some friendly faces in the crowd for your presentation and you can focus on them, and almost guaranteed they will smile and nod along with your presentation, encouraging you and calming you down

Dress like you're going to sweat. I've learned the lesson far too often that standing on a stage, with lights in your face along with the pressure of being up there is the formula for a sweat factory. So assume that's going to be the case and don't wear heavy sweaters, shirts that are going to show pit stains, etc. 

Know what you should be doing with your body. Sometimes you have the protection of a podium in front of you. Other times you're walking a stage. In either case, practice ahead of time what you want to do with your arms and legs when speaking. Research has shown, contrary to conventional advice, that a lot of arm and hand movement is ok, but make sure it's conveying the right thing.

I hope these tips are helpful to those who are doing public speaking soon and are experiencing anxiety about doing so. See you on the stage!