Does your voice quaver? Do your legs feel leaden, does your heart pound, and do you wish you were any place but in front of an audience?
If such is the case, according to one study, you, like most other Americans, placefear of public speaking ahead of fear of death, flying and loneliness.
What brings on such terror? "Most people feel that their public speaking situation demands that they be another person, someone who's perfect," says Sandy Linver, author of "Speak Easy: How to Talk Your Way to the Top" (Summit Books, $8.95). "This is an unrealistic expectation. When we talk, we expect pauses, hesitations and repetitions. Thaths a part of normal conversation. The idea is to get up and act like you're having a conversation rather than giving a speech."
There are other reasons for anxiety, too, Linver said recently:
Uncertainty over what to do with your body while speaking. "Most people feel like their body is on display," she says, "and they don't know how to control what it is doing. So they worry about such things as: What do I do with my hands? (What do you do with them the rest of the time? she answers). Where do I look? Do I have to make gestures? What do I do about being out of breath? What do I do with my shaking voice? What stance shall I take?"
Fear of losing the audience. The answer to that is to act relaxed, says Linver, who heads an Atlanta, Ga., firm that teaches business executives to become more effective speakers. The more comfortable you are, the less likely your audience will become bored.
A female speaker may worry that a predominantly male audience won't take her seriously. And a male speaker, who wouldn't shy from a predominantly female audience, may be nervous about seeming an authority figure in front of his male peers. How do you overcome podium panic? Don't wait until you're called on to make a speech, Linver says. "Nervousness is not something you deal with in five minutes," she says.
"Controlling tension is an ongoing process." Here are some of the things she suggests you do ling before you're ever called on to make a speech.
Face your psychological fears. Try to understand just what it is that is making you quiver. You may be carrying with you miserable memories of muffing a line in the school play, or other embarrassing public speaking moments.
Get involved with some kind of physical exercise that makes you feel more in command of your body and less klutzy. (She suggests jogging, yoga, calisthenics, karate or fencing- but not competitive sports).
Improve your posture. Linver says you can't relaxed without balanced posture, which should be practiced daily. Plant your feet a few inches apart, but not past the area of your armpits. Head, shoulders and chest should be directly over one another. Let the weight settle and feel the floor under you with both the heels and balls of your feet. Once you're in this balanced posture, you need to know how to exhale to release tension. Do this: Close your eyes and concentrate on the ins-and-outs of your breathing. Then limit concentration to exhaling only. Your rib cage will drop and your weight will settle closer to the floor each time you exhale.
According to Linver, the inhaling and exhaling techniques should be applied to every tension-filled situation, so they become automatic by the time you approach a lectern. It's also good to get in a couple of good exhales before you start talking, a trick that's useful at those moments when you sense hostility in the audience.
Some other tips:
ORGANIZING YOUR SPEECH: It's a mistake to plow through a manuscript speech, Linver maintains. "It may be a crutch for you, but it sure makes it boring for your audience," she says. "It's better to read a manuscript than to memorize it. Better yet is to speak extemporaneously. But no extemporaneous speech should be given without some preplanned organization and backup notes. If you must read a manuscript, be sure that you have rehearsed it well, so it will sound as natural as possible."
Practice not to be letter perfect but, instead, to be able to recall quickly the basic points. Pay even more attention to the opening. That's where you want to grab your audience's attention and allow yourself time to get over any initial nervousness. You should also have a socko closing. "It's like the ribbon on the package, it should tie it all up neatly," says the public speaking exper. "It carries the punch and will be the last impression the audience will have of you."
WHAT TO WEAR: On the day of the speech, wear clothing that's comfortable and that you feel you look good in.
MAKING AUDIENCE CONTACT: INITIALLY, LOOK FOR RECEPTIVE FACES AROUND THE ROOM AND USE EYE-TO-EYE CONTACT. THEN, AS YOU WARM UP AND FEEL MORE COMFORTABLE, START THINKING ABOUT MAKING CONTACT WITH AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE. IF YOU SEE A FROWN, FOR INSTANCE, DEAL WITH IT DIRECTLY, TURN TO THAT PERSON, AND SAY, "WHAT'S THE MATTER, DON'T YOU AGREE WITH ME?" THAT'S AUDIENCE INTERACTION. "NO LONGER SHOULD PEOPLE HIDE BEHIND A LECTERN," SHE SAYS. "GETTING INVOLVED WITH THE AUDIENCE IS WHAT SUCCESSFUL PUBLIC SPEAKING IS ALL ABOUT. REMIND YOURSELF THAT THE AUDIENCE IS COMPOSED OF PEOPLE WHO WANT TO LOOK GOOD.
"PAUSE AS OFTEN AS YOU FEEL THE NEED AND MAKE SILENCE WORK FOR YOU," LINVER ADDS. "MOST SPEAKERS ARE AFRAID OF SILENCE AND TRY TO FILL THE VOID WITH ERS, AND UMS, AND YOU KNOW'S. SILENCE CAN VE A POSITIVE FACTOR." LINVER RECALLED THE TIME SHE WAS DELIVERING A SPEECH IN FRONT OF A WOMEN'S ASSERTIVENESS TRAINING GROUP. AT ONE POINT SHE CHALLENGED HER AUDIENCE WITH THE LINE: "WHAT DO YOU WANT TO MAKE, MONEY OR MEN?" THEN SHE ALLOWED A LONG PAUSE. "THE SILENCE GAVE A CHANCE FOR THE IDEA TO SINK IN," SHE EXPLAINS. "IF I HAD CONTINUED TALKING, I WOULD HAVE BEEN STEPPING ON MY OWN LINES. SILENCE IS A BEAUTIFUL WAY TO EMPHASIZE A POINT."