Most people say they “hate public speaking”. I believe everyone can get overcome fear with training! During 3-decades teaching public speaking I developed 7-quickly applied tips using the acronym C.O.N.C.E.A.L. to manage the anxiety associated with public speaking skills, also referred to as Speech Fright, speech fear or speech anxiety.
Tip #1 is C = CONCEAL it! While everyone is naturally nervous before a speaking event, no one sees the nervousness unless you allow them to see it. In this article we will cover a realistic goal for your management and how to hide it from the audience.
Your goal is NOT fear elimination, but fear reduction. We naturally want to eliminate anxiety, there’s no magic wand to make it go away. The symptoms are an adrenalin response occurring internally and we cannot suppress that natural adrenalin process. Because of this our goal can’t be anxiety elimination, but instead learning management approaches which help you gain control of the Flight-Fight Syndrome.
Ski Example: I compare this anxiety management learning to learning how to ski. When I started skiing I was naturally afraid because I wasn’t skilled or comfortable. Public speakers similarly start out unskilled and uncomfortable. It took time practicing skiing to create increased comfort level and skill, and thus less fear. Furthermore, as the fear became manageable, I sought out bigger slopes and challenges. The former fear became comfortable and lead to seeking bigger adrenalin-producing challenges.
Developing comfort with public speaking is exactly like this ski example. Initially the fear is very uncomfortable. Time practicing and doing speaking produces comfort and skill. As that increases, you as a speaker can begin to enjoy the adrenalin rush vs. avoid it. Dale Carnegie, a well-known speaker trainer said “anything worth doing is worth doing poorly at first”. Speaking is definitely a skill we have to learn to do well.
The goal then is CONCEALING the anxiety from the audience. Nervousness is not seen by others. Speakers can hide nervousness so the audience sees only your performance. Your internal anxiety is usually not visible and you can HIDE it from the audience. Unless you tell your audience about it, or do things that reveal your nervous symptoms, they may never know. I’ve heard successful speakers say “I was so nervous, did you all everyone see it”? Successful speakers will hear back that the audience “couldn’t tell, you seemed confident, smooth or practiced”. That is our goal; concealing the nervousness from them to the point they don’t even know about it.
Ways to conceal nervousness? Let’s dissect the major Flight or Fight Syndrome symptoms and how to hide them from the audience. In the series introduction we covered the major physiological changes occurring, including an adrenalin system boost. Below addresses management suggestions to conceal these physiological changes.
1). A racing heartbeat is caused when oxygenated blood is needed by the Flight or Fight Syndrome. Your heart beats so rapidly that it feels as if the audience might actually see it; however, the only way they might see this symptom is if you also flush externally.
Does your face turn red with the rush of blood? If yes, the way to hide this is twofold: a). use extra make-up and avoid wearing a color that highlights or contrasts your bright face, and b). don’t draw attention to it, such as telling the audience to look at it your symptom (i.e., saying “I bet I’m turning red right now!”)! If you ignore it, they will usually not even notice! Whatever you ignore, the audience will also ignore. The flush will quickly dissipate as your body adjusts.
2). Perspiration occurs due to the internal Flight or Fight Syndrome workout occurring. Prepare for this by planning ahead. Wear powder and antiperspirant, as well as clothing choices which conceals sweat. For instance, don’t wear clothing or colors that show sweat stains.
3). Digestion is affected, often described as butterflies, a lump/pit/rock in the stomach, and other gastrointestinal issues. Cottonmouth or dry-mouth symptoms are part of this symptom. Prepare for this ahead by thinking about what you eat beforehand and make sure it will sit well in your tummy. Avoid potentially upsetting products, such as dairy. Prepare for dry-mouth with a sweet lozenge or throat drop before the speech, or hot water and honey. Honey is a natural throat lubricator that supports your voice while speaking.
4). Heightened 5-Senses, the skin gets goosebumps, a reaction that cause the hairs on the skin to be ultrasensitive. Speakers experience this as an ‘itch’ or feel a hair on their face. It’s not imaginary; your skin is has heightened sensitivity and feels hairs raise during anxiety states. Hide this from the audience by not touching it. If you scratch it, swat or move away the hair, or my favorite – blow on it – while speaking, those actions will only draw attention to it. Unfortunately these actions do not help nor eliminate the sensations. In fact, it’s my experience that it makes them worse, more prolonged, and the feeling may move to another area. If you don’t touch it and ignore it, the feeling often quickly dissipates as your body adjusts and no one will have noticed if you didn’t draw attention to it.
5). Breathing too fast caused by the delivery of oxygenated blood causes talking too fast, a vocal quiver or shake, and possible lightheaded hyperventilation. To avoid these being visible, you need to control and consciously slow your breathing. We will review breathing control in the fourth article about the second “C” of C.O.N.C.E.A.L. in this 7-part series.
6). Shaking is caused as your body delivers oxygenated blood in order to support the Flight or Fight Syndrome. The adrenalin rush will cause your body to shake and this will take effort to manage and conceal. Here’s just a few examples to conceal shaking, a common symptom:
- Settle your hands on the top side of the podium so the audience doesn’t see your hands shaking.
- Don’t hold anything up or point with one finger so they don’t see a shaking hand.
- Move purposefully and intentionally on the stage to use nervous energy.
- Don’t wear thin (i.e., silk) clothing which might shake.
You can manage this by using the adrenalin and reducing the full capacity of your body to respond beforehand. I’ll review more ideas in this fifth “E” in C.O.N.C.E.A.L. 7-part series.
7). Mental Block – there’s a joke that the “mind is a wonderful computer, storing every detail of our life for immediate recall and failing only when one gets up to speak”. A blank mind occurs because the inexperienced speaker is being overwhelmed with the Flight or Fight Syndrome feelings and so distracted they cannot think clearly. Pre-planning is the only answer. You must put in place content prior to feeling anxiety. Practicing ahead of anxiety allows your mind to not have to think about content as you manage the overpowering anxiety feelings. Your mind will recall practiced content, but it will struggle to ad-lib and come up with new content. How to practice will be covered in the next article, the O of C.O.N.C.E.A.L.
Again, the Dale Carnegie quote “anything worth doing is worth doing badly is worth doing badly ….at first” applies here. I’m convinced everyone can feel comfortable with public speaking once they learn symptom management skills. In the next article we will review the second of 7-parts C.O.N.C.E.A.L. series.
MORE NEXT MONTH! The “O” of Conceal