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Public Speaking: Conquer Your Anxiety About Speaking

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Cliche or not, most people, even graduate students, dread public speaking. But graduate students and  professors can't avoid public speaking. So how do you deal with your nervousness? Follow these five basic tips and you'll approach your next speaking engagement at ease.

Accept your nervousness.
Most people feel stage fright or anxiety about speaking in public. Accept it as part of the territory. You'll probably first feel the tension the moment you accept the invitation to speak or learn about the upcoming presentation -- and the anxiety will build as the event nears. Embrace it for what it is -- and use it as a motivator to craft a great presentation.

Understand your fear.
What do speakers fear? That the presentation won't be what the audience expects or wants. Speakers worry they'll be attacked and asked questions that can't be answered. Everyone will find out that they're just faking it all and don't really know what they're talking about. Speakers fear embarrassment. Sure, there are many things to fear, but try to remember the big picture. Ask yourself, "What's the worst that can happen?" If you slip up, will it really matter a year from now? Try to find perspective.

Remember that some anxiety is helpful.
Fear can give you the adrenaline rush that you need to be an energizing speaker. There's a substantial body of psychological research that shows that while tremendous anxiety is paralyzing, some anxiety is helpful. It juices you up and provides a surge of energy that is expressed to your audience. Overcnfident speakers, those who don't feel anxiety, often are too relaxed to do a good job and give a compelling presentation. Your anxiety can be a powerful ally - use it to invigorate your presentation.

Keep it to yourself.
Never tell your audience about your nervousness. Anxiety typically doesn't show. Don't call attention to your nervousness or your audience will suddenly notice your shaking hands moreso than your message -- and thus your message will fall on deaf ears.

Locate your fans.
It's easy to be cowed by a negative Nellie in the audience. Remember that you will never be able to please everyone and you may see a sour puss in the audience. Be prepared for that -- and find your fans. Focus on the faces that are interested, listening. They smile, make eye contact, and give you energy. Don't allow yourself to focus on the negative audience members. This is easier said than done, of course as we naturally want to convince our detractors, but often you won't be able to change their minds and you'll just make your own nervousness worse. Focus on the friendly faces in the audience instead.

We learn to be fearful; we can also learn to be confident. Remind yourself that you know your stuff. Visualize yourself succeeding and be your own cheerleader.

 

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