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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

The professional gator: 10 tips for handling public speaking anxiety

I’m just going to come out and say it right now: Public speaking sucks.

Imagine standing alone at a podium with a big audience in front of you. Your body’s shaking, it’s getting harder to catch your breath, and you suddenly have to pee for whatever reason. The fear of messing up or being judged is enough to make the room feel like its spinning.

Scary, right?

If you can relate to this, you’re not alone. In fact, it’s reported that about 70 percent of college students suffer from some sort of communication apprehension or experience fear or anxiety due to real or perceived communication with other people.

Unfortunately, there are times where you just have to grin and bear it, either in school or in whatever career you end up in.

So, here are some tips to help you get through the nerves:

1. Get enough sleep and eat a good breakfast the day of your presentation. In reality, you should be doing this always as it can help in moderating everyday stress and promote better mental well-being overall. Eat something nutritious, and avoid caffeine and processed foods. Go to bed early the night before.

2. Try out some yoga poses or meditation. I understand this is not for everyone, but doing some light stretching and breathing exercises can really help relieve tension and stress.

3. Know your stuff. Give yourself plenty of time to feel comfortable with the material and your audience. Feeling confident in what you know can make all the difference when relaying information to other people. Oh, and don’t procrastinate.

4. Practice makes perfect. Stand in front of a mirror to run through your presentation each day, or present to your roommates or family as practice. Doing so gives you the chance to work on your body language and eye contact. Also try closing your eyes and visualizing yourself in front of your audience, and picture yourself doing well.

5. Use notes, but don’t just read them. Memorization plus anxiety equals a poor performance. Keep notecards as reference, but don’t resort to bowing your head and reading them word for word. There’s a huge difference between reading and speaking.

6. Try not to focus on just one or two people. If someone isn’t giving you the reassuring face you’re looking for, quickly move on to another person; that can really make a person freeze up. Continuously scan the room.

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7. Remember: your audience is on your side. Believe it or not, your audience probably wants you to do well just as much as you do and are not there to watch you crash and burn. They probably hate giving speeches, too.

8. Don't expect perfection. You are going to stutter and mispronounce words. It happens, and that’s OK. Your audience probably won’t even remember that little stumble, so don’t sweat it. Just smile, take a second to breathe, and keep going like it never happened. Remember not to rush your presentation.

9. Move around or use props if appropriate. This keeps your body busy, so it’s easy to avoid poor body language. Walk around, or point things out.

10. Don't lock your knees. If you’re glued behind a podium, wobble your knees front to back slightly whenever your nerves kick up. It’s something one of my chorus instructors taught me while in middle school and has kept me from passing out on multiple occasions.

Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough speaks about the history of leadership in America as part of the opening events for the Bob Graham Center for Public Service at the University Auditorium Tuesday night.(Harrison Diamond / Alligator Staff)

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