Some people crave attention, while others—about 75% of the population, actually—fear public speaking more than death. So if you’re in the second camp, don’t worry—there’s a whole bunch of you who could use a bit of encouragement.
Because this is so common, there’s plenty of research on why people are so afraid of performing in front of an audience—besides the several reasons I can think of on my own.
And since you probably trust science more than you trust your own ability to get up on that stage and speak without your voice shaking, here are five research-backed facts and tips to consider the next time the spotlight is on you.
1. Don’t Relax
Confused? I’ll explain. You may think to tell yourself to “calm down” when you’re nervous, but quite the opposite is true. A study at Harvard showed that participants who turned their stage fright into excitement appeared more persuasive, spoke longer, and felt better about their speech than those who tried to relax.
Since it’s completely natural to get the jitters before a big presentation, you can use that feeling to your advantage by telling yourself to “get excited” or repeat the mantra “I am excited”—and all that bottled up nervousness should turn into positive energy.
2. Stand Up Tall
Yes, it’s as simple as that. Studies show that posture is linked to mood, meaning that just the act of standing up straighter can make you literally feel “taller,” or more important as a person. This tricks your brain into feeling more confident about being heard and seen by others.
Curious as to why this works so well? Check out this TED talk on how to strike the ultimate “power pose.”
3. Practice Being in Front of Others
Research shows that the reason we get so stressed when we’re in the spotlight is not because the act of public speaking itself is stressful, but because we are under social evaluation. Basically, this means we’re anxious because we’re being scrutinized by others. However, studies on the audience effect also show that when we are familiar with a task, we perform even better in front of other people than when we do it alone.
So becoming more comfortable in front of an audience takes practice. And the key to effectively doing that is to take risks and regularly put yourself in situations where you’re being judged by your peers. The more you do it, the more you’ll not only fail and realize that it’s not the end of the world—but the more you’ll also succeed and gain confidence in yourself.
So really, practice making a fool out of yourself in front of people you trust and love. Try attending an improv class, or offering to present more at work, or maybe even giving a toast at your next party.
Smiling can do wonders for stage fright (or just about any stressful situation). For one thing, the simple act reduces stress and increases happiness by releasing all those feel-good chemicals like dopamine into your body.
But this trick works both ways: Smiling also makes you look more attractive to an audience (seriously, that’s all it takes!). A study, in which men and women were asked to rate the appearances of people in photos, showed that those who smiled were considered better looking than those who didn’t. So, not only will you feel better, you’ll look better (and more natural), too!
5. Be Your Own Cheerleader
While it’s perfectly normal to pump yourself up before a speech, studies show that you should actually refer to yourself in the second or third person when doing so. By saying something like, “I can do this!” you’re actually making yourself more anxious.
The reason it’s better to say “You can do this” or “Alyse, you’ve got this” is because you’re speaking as if you’re talking to a friend, not yourself. And in general, it is easier and more natural for us to cheer on someone else. By simply changing your wording, you can change your mindset and how you feel going into a presentation.
That wasn’t so bad, right? Try these science-backed solutions, and you’ll seem like you were born ready to be in the spotlight.
What’s your public speaking secret? Tweet me!
Photo of spotlight courtesy of Shutterstock.
Previously an editor for The Muse, Alyse is proud to prove that yes, English majors can change the world. She’s written almost 500 articles for The Muse on anything from productivity tips to cover letters to bad bosses to cool career changers, many of which have been featured in Fast Company, Forbes, Inc., CNBC's Make It, USA Today College, Lifehacker, Mashable, and more. She calls many places home, including Illinois where she grew up and the small town of Hamilton where she attended Colgate University, but she was born to be a New Yorker. In addition to being an avid writer and reader, Alyse loves to dance, both professionally and while waiting for the subway.More from this Author