Speech! Speech! How to Rise to the Occasion!

Public speaking is one of the top phobias for many people.  It has been said that the human brain begins its function inside the womb, and continues to work for the rest of our lives, or until the moment we are asked to make a speech.  It is that fear of “blanking out” or otherwise making a fool of oneself that drives people to see their doctor for “performance anxiety” medications.  But before reaching for a beta blocker (like Inderal) or a tranquilizer (like clonazepam), lets take a look at some practical solutions.  As a practicing doctor and a professional speaker, I have indeed been asked for help by patients facing an upcoming presentation.  Here are some important tips that may ease the whole problem of dealing with a live speech:

1.  Consider the medium: A live speech is a forum for passion, not a place to  recite data.   Don’t worry if you mispronounce a word, clear your throat, or pause to find the right phrase.  We do that all the time in person or on the phone.  But on stage, people assume they need to speak with robotic precision.  You are not dictating an encyclopedia entry, you are there to personalize the presentation. 

2.  Be well hydrated.  Know that the mouth is programmed to dry up when you are under stress.  Its an antique reflex for the old days, when we needed to shut down the digestive tract to spare our blood supply for the muscles, to save us during fight-or-flight crises.  Drink plenty of water before you start, but don’t fill your stomach with food (or it will sit there like a bag of cement, and promote another primitive reflex to empty your bowels!).  Take a couple of glasses of water on stage with you, and don’t apologize for taking a few slow sips.

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3.  Press the “relaxation button”.  In acupuncture, we have a relaxation point that is called “Heart 7”.  Locate yours at the wrist.  Turn your left palm towards you, and follow the line of the wrist crease over to line up with the base of the fifth finger.  Now flex the wrist, and grasp the bony “marble” (buried in the tendon, just like a miniature knee-cap) that you can feel between your right thumb and index finger.  On the thumb side of that small bone, lies “heart 7”.  Press here for about thirty seconds, and you will stimulate the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, to promote a lowering of the pulse and blood pressure, a calming of the stomach and bowels.  Your sympathetic response to stress will abate, and your dry mouth will thank you.  A great trick while you are being introduced.

4.  Take a breather.  Just before starting, take a slow deep breath in.  Then slowly exhale through your nose. When you think you are done, keep exhaling!  With a final effort, you can expel even more air than you thought.  Pause, then refill slowly.  This will blow off some of the retained carbon dioxide, and let you start your presention with a fresh tank of air.  It will also trigger the relaxation response, one that can be incorporated into your daily routine.

5.  Read your audience, not your speech.  If you have an important list of facts to transmit, show them on a screen or in handouts, but don’t read them while they are being read by the audience.  Pay attention to the mood of the crowd.  If they seem to be in a jovial mood, a few self-deprecating comments or witticisms could be very appropriate.  If they are in a mood for hard driving facts, then acknowledge this, and don’t waste their time with rambling stories.

6.  If the audience is going to hear the whole speech, they should see the whole speaker.  Don’t hide behind a box, unless you are doing a radio show.  Pace a little, and use your body language to express your thoughts.  If a microphone is needed, always ask for a lavalier, and test it in all parts of the stage where you might roam.  Remember to involve all parts of the audience, and make direct eye contact with one person at  a time, changing targets often!

7.  Enjoy yourself!

Stressipedia Video #14:
Take the Fear Out Of Public Speaking

Presented by: Peter G. Hanson, M.D., The Stress Doctor

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