If your palms sweat and your heart rate speeds up just thinking about giving a presentation, you are not alone. The fear of public speaking, stage fright, is a common anxiety that affects almost everyone to some degree. Left unchecked, however, stage fright can derail an otherwise promising career.
Famous leaders and highly-accomplished individuals, from producer Shonda Rhimes to billionaire Warren Buffett have publicly acknowledged their fear of public speaking. The good news is they’ve overcome it, and so can you. But you need a strategy.
Here are three scientifically-proven tips for conquering stage fright.
1. Reframe anxiety as positive energy.
One of the most empowering things you’ll learn about conquering fear comes from the field of cognitive psychology. The physiological reactions we experience result from a threat response that’s deeply wired in our brain.
The threat response served our cave-dwelling ancestors when they had to make quick decisions on whether to fight a wild animal, or run. The fight-or-flight response now kicks in when we don’t need to fight or flee. We’re simply giving a presentation, yet our brains treat the event like a life-or-death event.
The secret is what cognitive psychologists call reframing. It works like this. The next time those uncomfortable feelings come up, reframe your reaction as a challenge. See those feelings for what they are: Your body getting ready to perform its best.
Some studies show that people who report feeling anxious before taking a test or giving a speech often do better than those who say they have no stress at all. The lesson from the research is to acknowledge those feelings of anxiety as a positive, natural reaction. Above all, don’t dwell on them.
Instead, acknowledge your feelings, celebrate them for being there to help you, and move on.
2. Speak to yourself in the third person.
Researchers have discovered that when people mentally distance themselves from the event they fear, they experience less anxiety about it.
A Columbia University study found that using your first name to talk to yourself leads to better “emotional regulation.” In other words, anxiety goes down, and confidence goes up.
For example, if I’m speaking to myself in the first person, I would think to myself repeatedly, “I’ll do great. I’ll do great.” Instead, when I’m speaking to myself in the third person, I might say, “Carmine, you’ll do great. You got this.”
Another way to think about distancing is to imagine that you’re giving a friend a pep talk before their presentation. Then use the exact words and change the name to your own.
3. Use Navy SEAL tactical breathing.
I once asked a Navy SEAL instructor how he teaches elite military commandos to stay calm under pressure. He says they all learn box breathing.
Box breathing, also called tactical breathing, controls the fight-or-flight response. It tells your brain to remain calm.
It works like this. First, take a deep breath through your nose for a count of four. Second, hold your breath for four seconds. Finally, exhale for four seconds. Repeat four times.
I do box breathing before presentations, and it does work. Before a talk, my mind gets really active with all the content I have to deliver. Box breathing takes my thoughts off the presentation and calms my body and mind. It gets me into a peak performance state.
Public speaking is considered the No. 1 skill required for success in today’s business world. You’re going to feel a little anxious about it, maybe extremely anxious. It’s a natural reaction. The good news is that you can take proven steps to control your anxiety before it controls you.