How To Overcome Stage Fright and Fear of Public Speaking: 10 Research-Based Strategies

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If you suffer from public speaking anxiety, know that you’re not the only one.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, it affects as much as 73 percent of the American population.

Psychologists attribute it to our underlying fear of being judged or evaluated by others.

That said, it pays to know a trick or two about how to improve your communication skills.

Take it from an expert like Bill McGowan, a two-time Emmy Award-winning journalist and media coach who has worked with prominent personalities like Kim Kardashian and Katherine Heigl.

In his latest book, entitled Pitch Perfect, McGowan shares five public speaking secrets that let you communicate under pressure.

You’ll find a 15 to 20-minute summary of this sought-after book on Blinkist.

We’ll also discuss some of them later, so keep reading if you want to learn how to overcome stage fright and fear of public speaking.

What Is Stage Fright?

Stage fright is the fear of performing in front of an audience.

It happens not just in actual presentations but also in other forms like online communications.

Stage fright has many causes, which are mainly associated with “social phobia“.

Usually, it stems from the fear of being judged, embarrassed, or rejected.

People who suffer from public speaking anxiety can exhibit a variety of symptoms, such as:

  • Sweating, palpitation, upset stomach, and nausea
  • Mental confusion
  • Urge to escape the situation

Research-Backed Ways To Overcome Stage Fright

1. Accept the Fear

The first step to overcoming public speaking fear is acknowledging it.

By acknowledging that it exists, you’re telling your brain to “calm down”, so it becomes more responsive to whatever self-help technique you’d like to try.

Why should you calm your brain?

Turns out, your brain starts to “freeze” when you get more stressed or anxious, causing some parts of it to shut down and disconnect from the rest.

That makes it even hard to retrieve your memories, even if you’ve worked hard to memorize your speech.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America recommends the AWARE approach to dealing with anxiety symptoms, such as in the case of stage fright. 

It has five steps:

  • Acknowledge and Accept

Admit that you’re scared and panicking.

  • Wait and Watch

Instead of attempting to distract yourself from feeling anxious, don’t do anything except breath.

  • Actions

Make yourself comfortable by practicing deep-breathing techniques, relaxing your body, writing about your anxiety, and more.

  • Repeat

Whenever you feel like being attacked by anxiety, repeat the above steps.

  • End

Remind yourself that the anxiety will end soon.

2. Leave “Perfectionism” Behind

Having unrealistic expectations about yourself can excite feelings of anxiety and aggravate your symptoms.

Therefore, setting unachievable standards doesn’t help. Worse, it can backfire.

Therefore, whenever your “perfectionist self” starts knocking, shut the door.

Remind yourself that a perfect speech or presentation isn’t possible.

You should aim to do your best instead of aiming to be perfect.

3. Dig Deeper Into Your Topic

Do your research, create an outline of your presentation, and carefully plan out the information you want to present.

The better you understand what you’re talking about, the more confident you will be in delivering your speech.

Even if you get lost in the middle of your presentation, you’re likely to recover quickly.

Lastly, you won’t panic when your audience starts asking questions since you have studied your topic so well.

4. Practice and Practice Some More

Practice makes you “better”.

In a collaborative study by Michigan State University and Princeton University, it was found that deliberate practice was a strong overall predictor of success in most performance domains, be it in sports, music, or education.

What this means is practicing helps you gain mastery over what you’re doing.

Even if delivering speeches beautifully is not innate in you, you’re likely to impress your audience with a well-rehearsed performance.

Rehearse out loud with all the equipment you need when you deliver your actual speech.

It’s best to practice in front of the mirror so you can examine your gestures and facial expressions and curate the best performance you can give.

tips on how to overcome stage fright and fear of public speaking

5. Challenge Your Worries

You’re probably worried that people might boo you or laugh at you while you deliver your speech.

Or that maybe no one will listen, or they will just walk out of the room.

Guess what? Most things you worry about will never actually happen.

Research from Penn State University found that among the people who experience persistent worrying, none actually had their worries come true.

Instead of succumbing to anxiety, challenge your worries. Identify the likelihood that they will happen.

Then, ask yourself whether those thoughts are helpful or not or if there’s evidence that supports your worries.

Chances are, most of those negative thoughts are merely exaggerations.

6. Take Advantage of the Adrenaline Rush

If your heart races at the thought of having to stand up in front of strangers, that’s your adrenaline working.

It’s a good thing, really. It’s the same thing that causes surgeons to perform successful surgeries or musicians to throw a world-class performance.

That jolt of energy is your body’s natural approach to gear you up and prepare for a battle.

Therefore, instead of letting it cripple you, use it to your advantage.

The adrenaline rush lasts about 20 minutes; during such time, you might feel shaky or uneasy.

When that happens, just breathe deeply for a few minutes. The uneasiness will ultimately subside.

What will be left is a stream of energy that will keep you going throughout your speech or presentation.

7. Keep It Short

When speaking in front of other people, you don’t have to prolong the agony. You can keep your speech short.

When you rehearse, time your speech and revise as necessary. The shorter, the better.

Focus on crafting solid opening and concluding remarks so you can keep your speech strong, clear, and flexible throughout.

That should also help you avoid having to recap your presentation at the end, according to McGowan.

8. Face Your Fear Until You Fear No More

Heard about exposure therapy?

It’s a subtype of cognitive-behavioral therapy that systematically exposes you to the thing that scares you until you fear no more.

It turns out it works on public speaking anxiety too.

Thus, you can apply this principle to overcome your stage fright.

For example, you can take every opportunity to talk in front of a group.

You can start by engaging in meaningful discussions with your friends or meeting new people.

It can be as simple as introducing yourself and giving a brief description of what you do.

At work, you can volunteer to host or lead meetings.

Many psychologists agree that exposure is one of the most successful ways to deal with phobias and anxieties. 

Simply repeatedly exposing yourself to the thing that scares you pulls down your psychological fear response until it’s gone or at least manageable.

9. Focus on Your Presentation

When the big day happens, it pays to know some tricks to keep the anxiety at bay.

One of the most powerful strategies in overcoming stage fright and public speaking is mindfulness.

Mindfulness is focusing your attention on the present moment.

It has many benefits, including the following:

  • It improves your ability to focus your attention on the task at hand.
  • It promotes body awareness, which is necessary to regulate emotions.
  • It helps your brain counter rumination and worrying, preventing “brain freeze” that can sabotage your presentation.

To reap the benefits of mindfulness, you have to practice it often, not just when you’re speaking in front of other people.

The moment you incorporate mindfulness in your life, your anxieties will become more manageable.

10. Seek Help

If you can’t overcome your fear of speaking in public, consider seeking professional help.

There are many effective therapies for anxiety disorders and phobias, such as cognitive behavioral therapy.

Your therapist will create a treatment plan for you.

It can include a series of counseling sessions wherein you and your therapist work together to find out the root cause of your stage fright.

Say It Right the First Time With Pitch Perfect

As we mentioned earlier, improving your communication skills is one way to manage your fear on the stage.

Pitch Perfect gives guidance on preparing speeches, conference panels, speeches, and other situations when you need to talk in front of other people.

Here, Bill McGowan detailed the seven principles of persuasion that help you make a powerful connection with your audience, such as:

  • Utilizing storytelling to find the “sweet spot” of communication.
  • Slowing down your pace to be more confident and sure about your message.
  • Curing boredom by keeping your message short but rich.
  • Conveying certainty with eye contact, posture, tone of voice, and words.

Get More Communication Tips From Experts Through Blinkist

Aside from Perfect Pitch, you can find other good reads about stage fright and public speaking on Blinkist.

Blinkist is a premium subscription service that summarizes non-fiction tiles so that you can save time reading.

The platform currently has 4,500 book summaries and counting, ranging from academic research to self-help tips and advice for communications.

In addition to written summaries, Blinkist also offers audio summaries for some titles.

How To Overcome Stage Fright and Fear of Public Speaking: Conclusion

A lot of people suffer from stage fright or fear of speaking in public.

While it has many causes, it usually stems from the fear of rejection, which is a universal experience.

That said, even good communicators can experience anxiety.

The good news is that there are many ways to combat the symptoms of stage fright and communicate with your audience effectively.

Learning how to overcome stage fright and fear of public speaking is not an easy feat.

Nevertheless, it’s possible to recover from it completely.

By incorporating the tips we outlined, and with the help of certain Blinkist books like Pitch Perfect, you can harness the confidence to deliver an engaging and powerful speech in any situation.

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