Public Speaking “Fight or Flight” – Acute Stress Response

“The only thing we have to fear is… fear itself.”

    - President Franklin D. Roosevelt

Sweating. Rapid heart rate. Dry mouth. Faster breathing. The “jitters.”

Most of us have experienced some, or all of these prior to speaking or presenting publicly. Whether in Princeton or Phuket, Dallas for Dubai, anxiety surrounding public speaking is nothing new.

Every presenter has a rush of adrenaline prior to presenting. Having worked with thousands of speakers, I can attest to this. This angst seems to be independent of position or job title. Nervous energy affects all of us.

This is a good thing.

That’s right, it is a good thing.

Contrary to popular wisdom, “nervous” energy, properly channeled, and the physiological responses that follow will make for a more impactful presenter, and presentation.

One of the keys to successfully channeling this “nervous energy” is to understand what is actually happening when our acute stress response, or “fight or flight” response, kicks in. And why many of the reactions from this response actually help you. This graphic will show you what is happening when your acute stress response kicks in. For more information, please contact Princeton Public Speaking, headquartered in Princeton, NJ with offices in Dallas and other locations.

Fight or Flight Public Speaking Infographic

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12 Tips to Overcome Public Speaking Jitters

“I know they are watching me tremble and sweat!

“Can they see me shake?”

“I get so blotchy when I am nervous and I know that the audience can tell!”

I hear these questions and statements on a regular basis. Fear and anxiety before speaking publicly is nearly universal – it targets all of us, at different times and to varying degrees.

Most individuals experience some degree of anxiety and/or nervousness prior to presenting. Two of the greatest orators of the past two centuries, Sir Winston Churchill and President Abraham Lincoln, were both reported to have some degree of anxiety before speaking publicly.

So the next time you are about to present, do yourself a favor and take a deep breath and picture Sir Winston Churchill or Abraham Lincoln. Two of the greatest orates ever, both suffered from a fear of public speaking. Also, think about major Hollywood actors and actresses, many of whom also suffer from Glossophobia (the fear of public speaking).

You are not alone! Keep this graphic nearby, and utilize these tips weeks, days, hours and minutes before your next presentation. You will be glad that you did!

Fear of Public Speaking Infographic

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How To Close A Speech That Brings Your Audience To Their Feet

You’ve engaged your audience from the beginning of your presentation. They nodded as you delivered your message. Their eyes were locked as you wove through a carefully crafted medley of stories, anecdotes and analogies, all supporting your message. There’s no question; the majority of your audience agrees with what you’re saying.

Empowered, the time has come to bring your speech to a close, at which point you exclaim:

“In conclusion, I appreciate the time you spent listening about __________. Thank you.”

…and then nothing happens. Everyone quietly claps, or just nods, and leaves the conference room. What just happened? How did your audience go from edge-of-your-seat to almost asleep?

Whether you’re taking a company public, introducing a new product to market or delivering a lecture, the conclusion of the presentation is crucial to its success. It’s the final impression you leave with your audience. How you use those last few words will determine the kind of energy you leave in the room.

There are many effective ways to close a speech. In fact, many of the tips I’ve shared for opening a presentation will also work for the closing. One of my favorites techniques, however, is using a call to action because the closing of a speech is your chance to motivate your audience. Here are three ways to use it:

1. A Direct Call to Action. A speech or presentation without a call to action is a speech or presentation probably not worth giving. The close of your speech should clearly spell out what you want your audience to do next. Here are some examples:

“In order to guarantee that we save __________ tomorrow, we need to __________ today! Let’s get to work.”

“If every person in this room leaves and immediately __________, I guarantee you’ll enjoy __________ next year!”

“We can have __________ or we can have __________. The choice is ours, and is based entirely on the decision we each individually make today. __________ or __________. I know I’m choosing __________.”

2. A Call to Vision. You can also motivate your audience by sharing your vision. Create a mental picture for your listeners of what could happen as a result of your call to action . Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. illustrated this beautifully with the final words of his epic “I Have a Dream” speech:

“And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

3. A Call to Question. Finally, end with a rhetorical question that captures your message and leaves the audience thinking. One that directly ties into your call to action can be very effective. Here are two examples:

“What choice will you make when you leave here today? Will go about your normal routine or will you __________?”

“Ultimately, the future of __________ lies in your hands. When will you be ready to do something about it?”

What’s your favorite way to close a speech? Please share it in the comments below.

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How to Engage Your Audience In Three Sentences or Less

The audience is seated. The lights dim and the room quiets. All eyes are on the dais. All too often, these are the words that are heard next:

“Hi, thank you for having me. It is an honor to be here with you today. My name is ___________, and I am going to be speaking to you today about _______.”

Look around and you’ll see this:

•People reviewing the program
•People reviewing their notes
•People reviewing the label on the sugar packet for their coffee
•People texting on smartphones
•People typing on laptops
•People tapping on tables
•People looking up
•People looking down
•People looking everywhere but at the speaker

The reason for all these distracted people? “Hi, thank you for having me. It is an honor to be here with you today. My name is ___________, and I am going to be speaking to you today about _______.”

Lackluster openings bore audiences, but there is a way to begin your presentation that will make audiences take notice: skip the formalities and say something that immediately engages them.

Drawing your audience into your presentation is important. Doing it before the perfunctory “thank yous” and “my name is” will work wonders, and there are a number of effective ways you can do this. Here are four of my favorites:

1. Start with a quote. Name just about any topic, and more often than not there is a great quote or saying that suits your subject matter perfectly. One that I like to use to open a presentation dealing with public speaking is from Mark Twain: “It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.” The most important characteristics of a quote are that it’s relevant to your topic and was delivered by someone your audience is familiar with.

2. Create a “what if” scenario. Get your audience involved right away by painting an interesting scenario – something to which they can relate or aspire. For example if you’re sharing an inspirational story, you could start by saying, “What if I told you that you can be greater than you know how to be? And what if I told you that you can do it without realizing it’s happening. I know for a fact that it’s possible because it happened to me.”

3. Use an “imagine” scenario. This is the similar to the “what if” scenario; you bring your audience members directly into the presentation by allowing each member to visualize something fantastic. If you’re giving a speech about the negative impacts bad food has on us mentally, for example, you could say, “Imagine a world where you could eat anything you want. Imagine: no weight gain, no skin issues, no food allergies. Imagine, anything you want – candy 24/7 – with no physical ramifications. What would you eat?”

4. Ask a question – rhetorical or literal. When someone is posed with a question – whether or not an answer is required – that person intuitively answers, even if it’s just in his or her mind. For example, “What is the most important thing that has ever happened to you?” Or, “What is the one thing you would grab if your house was on fire?” Or, “What did you have for lunch yesterday?” Ask a question and your audience becomes personally involved in what you’re saying.

Dale Carnegie said, “There are always three speeches for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.” What if he was wrong and the speech you gave exceeded all of your own expectations? Imagine opening your presentation by immediately engaging your audience. Which one of these openings will you use?

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5 Surprising Ways to Calm Your Pre-Presentation Jitters

What do Winston Churchill, Warren Buffet and John F. Kennedy have in common? Sure, all three achieved extraordinary success – but all three also suffered from a fear of public speaking. And each one overcame their fears and went on to become gifted speakers.

The reality is that everyone gets a rush of adrenaline before presenting – it’s the normal “fight or flight” response. The key is to choose fight instead of flight, powering through and effectively utilizing your uneasiness. At Princeton Public Speaking, we coach clients to use numerous techniques to do this. Here are five of the most surprising things you can do to quell your fears:

1. Listen to music. If you’ve ever watched a boxing or MMA competition, or went to an NFL or NBA pre-game show, you probably saw world class athletes entering the locker room listening to music, getting in the zone, eliminating distraction and chasing away anxiety and negative thoughts. This technique works well for public speaking, too. In fact, an iPod can be a presenter’s best friend. Before a speech, create a pre-presentation playlist. Pick your favorite uplifting music. You can even choose a power song – think Rocky and Gonna Fly Now.

2. Do crunches. It’s been suggested that constricting the abdominal wall may limit the production of epinephrine, a hormone associated with the fight or flight response. I can say from first hand experience it works for me. Try it by doing a round of sit-ups or crunches before giving a speech. If lying down isn’t an option where you are, you can still utilize this approach by “crunching” and releasing the abdominal muscles while standing. In addition to calming your nerves, it builds your six-pack abs!

3. Visualize yourself giving a great speech. It took Australian golfer Jason Day five sudden-death holes to win the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in February. When asked what led to his victory, he said he’d visualized himself holding the trophy. While it sounds unusual, picturing the outcome you desire works. Professional boxers visualize an opponent while shadow boxing, and quite literally spar with that image. Elite athletes, musicians, actors and dancers regularly utilize visualization. Before you step up to the podium, close your eyes and picture yourself giving a great speech – maybe even imagine a standing ovation.

4. Shake out your nerves. A few minutes before taking the stage, waggle your jaw by moving it from side to side. Bend forward, dangle your arms and give them a shake. Or wiggle your hands over your head. Focused movements warm the body, relax the mind and calm your nerves. You can also utilize simple stretches. I know a CEO who does 20 pushups prior to every earnings call. And as a former amateur boxer, nothing prepares me better than light shadow boxing a few minutes before I speak.

5. Do some mental gymnastics. One of my favorite techniques to break the tension that rises before giving a presentation is to pick a random number – 1,795, for example – and start counting backwards by another random number, such as by 5s, 11s or 15s. It’s not easy and it interrupts your thoughts, essentially putting a plateau on your building anxiety. Not a math wizard? Mentally recite the alphabet backwards, recall all seven of Snow White’s dwarfs or name 20 people in your high school class. Anything that takes concentration will disrupt your thought process and take the focus off of your anxiety.

What’s your favorite way to calm pre-presentation jitters? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so share your comments below.

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