Giving a speech can be nerve-wracking. Below are eight tips for giving a speech when you have social anxiety. If you have been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder (SAD) these tips can help you to become a better public speaker while receiving traditional treatment such as systematic desensitization or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
Getting daily exercise can help to keep anxiety at bay, and a good run or cardio workout in the morning of the day of your speech will keep your endorphins running high and anxiety levels low.
Dress for Success
Choose an outfit that you are comfortable in, that makes you feel good, and that is appropriate for the occasion. Although clothes don’t make the man (or woman), if you wear something that you dislike or that doesn’t fit you well, you will be distracted from the task at hand.
Coffee, cola and chocolate -- remember that the three “C’s” can be high in caffeine and sugar and a deadly concoction on the day of a speech. Try replacing your coffee with a caffeine-free herbal tea and opt for balanced meals containing protein to keep hunger at bay.
Meet Your Audience
There is nothing worse than presenting to a group of strangers -- unfamiliar faces can seem threatening, particularly when you are in the spotlight. Try to soften the blow a little by talking with some audience members prior to starting your talk. Becoming familiar with some people in your audience can help you to realize that they are just people like you, and they’re really not there to judge you. At the same time, if you are overcoming SAD, even speaking one-on-one with a stranger might be anxiety-provoking. Know your own limits and try to limit stressors before your performance.
Admit That You Are Nervous
Tell your audience that you are nervous. It can be a great ice-breaker and may help to make your audience more receptive.
Use a Conversational Tone
The best way to keep your audience’s attention is to speak to them the way that you would talk with a friend over dinner. Keep your tone light and conversational to make your audience feel at ease.
Maintain Good Eye Contact
When you have good eye contact with your audience, they will feel more connected to what you are saying. If looking into the eyes of strangers feels uncomfortable, have three or four friends positioned throughout the room and rotate your gaze amongst them while you speak. If you are comfortable looking around at the audience, try to gauge whether they are keeping up with you or if you need to slow down or explain things in more detail.
Focus on Content
As you speak, allow yourself to become immersed in the topic and how it will help the members of your audience. Shifting the focus off of yourself and on to the content of your presentation helps to alleviate some of the self-consciousnesses associated with SAD.
If all else fails and you do feel anxiety creeping up, realize that it’s not the end of the world. If you’ve ever been in the audience when a speaker was struggling with anxiety, you probably felt badly for the person but didn’t think any less of them. Be as kind to yourself as you would be to someone else.
Read more about public speaking:
Grice GL, Skinner JF. Mastering Public Speaking. 5th ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon; 2004.