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Breathe and Break Free

Breathe and Break Free

The fear of public speaking can keep people locked in their personal cage of torment for years. I know this because I am one of those people who feared the process of standing up in front of an audience of even a few people.

Notice that I used the term “feared”, in the past tense, because I’ve learned to control my fear of public speaking.  That’s not to say that I don’t feel that stomach churning, dry mouth, sweaty palms and breathlessness; I do still feel all of those things every time I’m called upon to get up on stage!

Learning to control these feelings is all about knowing what causes them and practicing your presentation skills.

Smile, Breathe, Relax

Our autonomic response to facing an audience is for our body to release our natural “fight, flight, pain relief” hormone and neurotransmitter known as Adrenaline.

Adrenaline gives us the extra power we need in our muscles for that fight or flight mode. The problem is when we’re stood there on stage with all that extra adrenaline it causes our muscles to shake. The adrenaline is looking for somewhere to go, to get used, to lash out.

The good thing here is that the body is a very complex thing, and not only do we react to autonomic functions, we can change our state with some conscious actions. When we’re in our “fear state” we release adrenaline, our breathing gets naturally shallow, hence the breathless feeling, our heart pounds and our body is all set for something bad to happen.

STOP! Take a very deep breathe, one that puffs out your belly, and then make a big smile. Exhale slowly and force your shoulders to relax.

This simple technique can help you to overcome the effects of the fear we all feel when we’re called onto stage.

In addition to these simple physical techniques, some people will run up stairs or do some physical exercise just before going on stage. One famous speaker I have heard of, reportedly uses a trampoline before going on stage to audiences of thousands of people.

What this has done for me

I joined Toastmasters at Brighton and Hove Speakers Club in February 2011 because I wanted to make presentations to groups of local business people and I found that I really had no idea of how to create and deliver an acceptable presentation or talk.

The process that I have followed through the Competent Communicator and Competent Leadership program has helped me to understand the process of creating a good speech and then delivering it to an audience so that the audience is happy to listen to it and would be happy to have me back to give more talks.

Whenever I am being introduced, before I get up I’ll go through my deep breathing exercise and be ready to give a big smile when I get in front of the audience.

Since joining Toastmasters just over 4 years ago, I have delivered about 50 speeches, workshops and seminars to speakers clubs and public audiences. I use the techniques detailed in the Competent Communicator manual to develop and deliver my speeches. Some of these are:

  • Vocal variety
  • Eye contact
  • Speech structure and organisation
  • Body language
  • Storytelling
  • Persuasiveness

All of these techniques (and more) are part of the Toastmasters process that we learn as we deliver our speeches from the basic “ice breaker” to the most advanced speeches.

As we deliver our speeches to our “safe club audience” we have an Evaluator who will watch and listen carefully to our speech and help us by giving us an honest appraisal of the speech we have delivered. Each prepared speech in the Competent Communicator manual has a set of criteria to adhere to, and this is what the evaluation is based upon. Each speech builds on the skills learned in the previous speech and helps us build our confidence.

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