Last week, we talked about overcoming your fear of public speaking. This week is part 2 – your voice. Overcoming your fear when you think everyone can hear your fear in your voice? This is the battle we face.
It’s very hard to talk about fear. I spent hours writing this podcast and feeling really awkward because when you share your fear, you become vulnerable. You let people see a part of you that exposes you to risk.
I called this series Overcoming Your Fear of Public Speaking, but in reality, I believe that the only way to overcome your fear of public speaking is to do it. In psychology, I guess it’s called exposure therapy. But I’m not going there – I don’t have the expertise or knowledge to address this, nor do I want people to think that I’ve got the answers.
What I offer here is better called “Coping with Your Stage Fright Symptoms.”
Does the fear of public speaking keep you from sharing your message with the world? Then you need Toastmasters. We have ways of making you talk that you’ll find fun along with tools to develop your skills. This is Toastmasters 101 and I’m your host, Kim Krajci.
Overcoming Your Fear of Public Speaking
How do you overcome your fear of public speaking when you can’t even talk?
I am not going to resolve anyone’s fear issues in a 15-minute podcast – so I’m not going to try. But what I can do is make a few suggestions that might make your first – or your next – speech at Toastmaster go a bit better.
Today on the podcast: Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking Part 2: Your Voice.
I believe that people will get more comfortable on the platform or behind the microphone over time. Experience teaches us what our bodies will do – good and bad, useful and distracting – when we give a speech. As we get more comfortable, many of those symptoms become less problematic. As they reduce, sometimes new symptoms rise in their places.
Well, that’s not fair, is it?
The real issue isn’t the symptom – it’s the energy.
Energy: The Result of Stress
Our bodies create various hormones and chemicals when we are faced with stress and anxiety.
When we are faced with a stressful situation, humans react as all animals do. Fight, flight, freeze, or my personal favorite because I teach high school students, stink.
These hormones create energy for our bodies to do whatever our natural inclination is to do when we are under stress. To run away. To hide. To attack whatever is threatening us.
That energy gives us strength – the kind of strength that we don’t normally need, so when those moments of stress arrive, we have to cope not only with not only the situation, but also all these crazy, unfamiliar feelings in our bodies.
That’s why I believe that if the only thing that Toastmasters might give you is a place to safely speak to a group of people, that would help you overcome what we call the fear of public speaking. You’ll eventually get comfortable and you might discover – giving a speech can be fun.
Toastmasters does offer a lot more than just a platform. We’ve got the gold-standard of nearly a century of teaching public speaking and leadership – because the two are linked – with the tools you need to develop your voice and your message.
Overcoming your fear of public speaking is learning how your body reacts. The only way to do that – experience it.
Have you ever seen a baby put a piece of lemon in their mouth? I did this to all of my children at one point or another, often before they had many other solid foods. They would grab it and shove it in their mouths, but then the sour juices filled their mouths and they made the cutest faces. But they wouldn’t take it out of their mouths! Even though the flavor was so strong, they weren’t giving it up. It was new and to us adults, a full wedge of lemon would be intolerable, but to the baby, it was a new taste and new sensation and not one they ever gave up voluntarily.
Fear of Public Speaking or Fear of Our Body?
I think that’s a rich metaphor for how some people take to public speaking. It may be really strong and sour and does things to our faces – but they’re not giving it up. I fit in that category.
For others, the stress of public speaking gets mixed in with the unknown and horribly disconcerting reactions of their body to that stress.
Let’s pull these apart just a bit so you can decide for yourself what you’re really reacting to.
There’s fear of the crowd – being afraid of what a group of people might do to you is justified.
There’s fear of shaky knees – that’s your body’s reaction to hormones in your system. Don’t be afraid of shaky knees – that’s a symptom.
Fear of being mocked? That’s justified. Fear of passing out – I know that sounds like it’s justified, but it’s really a physical reaction that you don’t need to fear – you need to cope with it.
See – public speaking is truly an interaction with other people. Separate that from how your body reacts – and you have the most important key to overcome your initial reaction to stepping up for a speech.
Fainting with Fear?
For the record, I’ve never seen anyone faint when giving a speech at Toastmasters. I’ve never seen anyone in real life faint while giving a speech. I think movies or tv shows might show it – but exaggeration is the tool of entertainment media. I’m willing to entertain that it may have happened to someone, somewhere… but I’ve never seen it and I’ve seen people who I thought might – but didn’t.
So let’s talk about how to cope with a couple of symptoms you might face – in particular, your voice.
Our voices give us away every time. Sometimes we can mask our emotions and use our voice to do so. We raise our glass and say a happy “Cheers” at a wedding when we’re pretty sure this champagne is being wasted because this marriage is doomed. We make it sound like we mean it when we are toasting the new couple, regardless of our thoughts.
But when coping with a stage fright symptom, we are at the mercy of our throats.
Do you know how the human body produces our voice? We breathe in air and as we breathe it out, the air passes through a space called our voice box – two vocal cords that vibrate. Those sound waves echo in our throats, in our mouths, in our sinus cavities and come out in a unique way. Unless you’re my three daughters, in which case, I might not be able to tell you apart.
Often stage fright symptoms show up in this system. We have a hard time breathing. We feel like our throat is closing up and we can’t speak.
When you think about that – it does make a weird sense that if your brain thinks you’re in trouble, it’s going to stop you from speaking. “You need to get out of here and not stay around and say something and make it worse” may be what your brain is preparing you to do by sending signals to release adrenaline into your system.
At a Toastmasters meeting, no one is going attack you. We’re here to support you and I think you know that. So you know you can get up and speak and now you’ve created a situation where your brain is saying “Get out of here” with one system and “Go ahead and speak” with the other.
No wonder people can’t think when they get on the stage!
When you deal with breathing and voice issues in overcoming your fear, I think there are a few things you can do that will help you cope.
1. Stand up straight.
That study reported in the most-watched TED Talk ever about power positions turned out to be questionable, but we’re not talking about power, we’re talking about control. Stand up straight means your shoulders down and back, your head high. This position opens your throat, extends it, and will impact the resonance of your voice. You’ll sound stronger and louder.
Posture does have an influence – on yourself. You’ll feel better if you stand up straight because our bodies are designed to stand like that. Yes, it feels rigid and uncomfortable for a few minutes. You may not have the strength in your muscles to hold yourself that way – yet – you need to work on that – but if your breathing or your voice is your most dominant stage fright issues, getting started with good posture may be enough.
2. The power of the sour
I talked about lemons before and I imagine there may be some people who love their lemon water as a treatment for dry mouth on stage.
Personally, I think a bottle or glass on the stage is a dangerous thing to a speaker. It’s a bad prop and your audience knows that you drinking is a sign of your nerves – because they know that feeling.
I have two suggestions for dry mouth and neither of them are on the stage.
- Eat a green apple before you go up to speak. The power of the sour will make your salivary glands go into overdrive. They can’t stop themselves. Spit happens! An apple has many virtues – remember, an apple a day keeps the doctor away – but mostly, you simply can’t have a dry mouth when you eat a sour apple. You might take that a step further and want to go with lemon, but I find that lemon makes my mouth pucker, which makes it harder to speak. Apples provide a quick shot of natural sugar to help you with the energy you need – fear depletes us fast – and gives you the added benefit of clearing out your mouth of anything else that might be in your throat. Ok, snot. It clears out snot as you chew it not only in your throat but also in your nose and sinus cavities. The action of chewing works your whole face – from the top of your head to the bottom of your jaw.
- Drink water at the right time. The right time is not on stage. The right time is not right before you go on stage. The right time is – one hour before you go on the stage.
We don’t lubricate our throats effectively with drink. Our body has to absorb the water through our stomach and digestive system. It needs time to get back to your throat.
Look, the water you drink and think you’re putting in your mouth isn’t going to stay there very long. You’re upright – it’s going to drain. You’re blowing air past it multiple times per minute. It’s like you’ve got a blow-dryer in your body and putting water in your throat at that moment means it’s not going to stay there.
Instead, choose to drink earlier. Then your body has access to fluids when it needs it.
Deep breathing exercises – some people swear by them. Some people swear with them. I’ve worked with a team of high school debaters and speech students. The very first thing we do as a warm-up is taking multiple deep breaths – and then we roll through tongue twisters, raps, body stretches, and a pep talk. My speech students love to hate this – but it’s highly effective in channeling your energy properly.
By concentrating on the warm-up activities – singing, chanting, arms swinging, deep breathing – you remove your focus from your body’s reactions. You break the negative feedback loop of fear – fear reaction – fear of the reaction – greater fear.
We don’t have this time scheduled into the Toastmasters meeting, but you can do a few things in your seat or in the back of the meeting room when we start meeting again. Breathe deeply – shoulders back, head up, using your belly muscles to exhale and inhale. Be mindful of what you’re doing as you do it. Shake out your arms on your sides – not flapping, but twisting your hands around stretches out a few of your long muscles in your arms.
The Key Is In Your Reaction to Overcoming Your Fear
Here’s an important thought:
Fear has the same physical reaction in my body as excitement.
That’s true, you know. Physiologically, your body reacts the same to stress as to excitement.
So maybe you’re not stressed, you’re excited. Your body is telling you something – you now have access to extra energy – how you interpret that is up to you.
Reframing your mindset will help you overcome most of your stage fright -and I say that with 10 years of Toastmasters behind me, so you could rightly say that this is not very comforting to you as you get started.
But for many people, it’s your interpretation of your body’s signals that determines if you’re going to enjoy the speech-giving experience or be terrified by it.
Or, you could just… ignore your feels altogether. Do it anyway. You may hear it called “put on your big kid panties” and suck it up and do it.
This is all very personal.
My stage fright symptoms may not be yours. The only way to truly deal with them is – and this is super scary – is to find out what they are when you step up on the stage. You can’t predict it and you have to experience it. Then you find the ways for you to cope with it.
You will get better as you gain more stage time. Overcoming your fear is directly related to how many times you speak in front of others. You can do it!
Wrap it up Kim
We’ll be talking about more stage fright symptoms next week and about overcoming your fear – so subscribe to the podcast and you won’t miss any episodes. Tell your friends about Toastmasters 101 especially if they’re dealing with stage fright. We’ll be talking more about it next week.
Wrap it up, Kim
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Toastmasters 101 is a podcast production of Toastmasters District 10.
When you’re ready to deal with your fear of public speaking, Toastmasters is here to give you the opportunities to do it. You can find a club near you or a club meeting at a time that’s convenient for you through the website Toastmasters dot org.
Talk to you next time on Toastmasters 101.