What is your worst fear?
For 75% of the population, it is a fear of public speaking.
Fear causes a range of different reactions in people. It could be anything from a racing heart and sweaty palms to shaking and a dry mouth whenever we step out in front of a crowd.
It doesn’t matter what size of crowd. It’s not about the number of people listening, it’s the fact that silence falls and there is nowhere to hide. All eyes are on you.
These are natural physiological reactions and they certainly don’t mean you need to shy away from public speaking; you just need to learn to manage and control them. So here are a few thoughts on how to manage the effects of adrenaline to your advantage.
Adrenalin distorts your perception of time
When you get up to speak, there is generally silence as the audience waits for you to start. Also, occasionally you will need to pause during your speech. During these pauses your mind might begin to panic, adrenalin starts flowing around your body and your natural fight or flight mode will kick in.
Adrenalin distorts your perception of time, making any period of silence either seem longer or shorter than it actually is. Your audience is perfectly relaxed just waiting for the next part of your presentation, whereas your mind has gone into overdrive and what might only be a few seconds can start to feel like an eternity.
So how do you manage these feelings to help you deliver the best presentation?
The first and probably most crucial piece of advice when you are managing the effects of adrenaline, is to practise using silence, to become more comfortable with it and intentionally pause during your presentations. That might sound counterintuitive but if you can learn to do this, these pauses will become essential to your delivery.
When planning your presentation or speech, factor in a short 1-2 second pause after a vital message. These pauses will give your audience time to reflect on the point you have just made and absorb its meaning. We call them ‘did you get that pauses’.
If they are managed well, these pauses help in many ways, including:
- Your message will be remembered because you are giving the listener time to digest it.
- The pause makes you appear confident, composed and in control.
- Because you have planned them and know they are coming, you can use them to take a breath and regulate your heart rate.
Prepare to present
Heightened adrenalin levels result from your brain recognising a perceived threat or danger to your body and instructing your adrenal glands to produce adrenaline.
For most of us, there is very little threat or danger when you stand up in front of people to speak. We worry we might make a mistake, forget our points or the slides won’t work.
You can manage the effects of adrenaline by preparing as much as possible. I work with clients to make sure their presentations are tailored toward their audiences and they have notes to support their brain, so they do not have to rely on slides.
Manage your pace
People generally talk around 130 words per minute. If you are writing out your full speech and reading verbatim, you can mark at 130 words and know roughly where you should be in terms of time.
Even if you are using prompt cards, practising this pace beforehand will help you to feel comfortable and give you markers that keep you on track, especially when you speed up, as you almost certainly will when the adrenaline of presenting to your audience kicks in.
Knowing and practising this pace also allows you to flex your presentation to suit different time constraints. Record yourself rehearsing and listen back to check your pace.
Know your surroundings
Nothing will kickstart the adrenal glands like a last-minute shock to your routine. There may not be a lectern, or you might be expected to use a handheld mic instead of a clip-on one.
You might have to walk a long way to the front of the crowd or climb a set of stairs to get to the stage.
Any deviation from your normal approach can knock you off your game. So it will help if you understand the layout and technical support before arriving.
Have a backup
One of the most adrenaline-inducing situations is when you lose your place mid-speech. It can happen to anyone but it is avoidable.
While some people try and deliver presentations without aids, I always advise at least using prompt cards for most of my clients.
Even if you are fully prepared and have your speech word perfect in your head, there is always a chance you can get knocked off by a movement in the crowd or a disturbance backstage.
Use the effects of adrenaline in the right way
Adrenaline can be a really positive tool in your presentation toolkit. It adds spark to your presentation and is the passion your audience has come to see. It can sharpen your mind and gives you a drive to do well.
These techniques will help you to reduce the level of adrenalin you experience and help you to manage and control it so it doesn’t derail your presentation. You no longer need to be part of the 75%.