Crazy as it sounds, some people fear public speaking more than death. In fact, it’s incredibly common. One Gallup poll found that a whopping 40% of Americans have glossophobia, the technical term for fear of public speaking.
Like many phobias, this one can be conquered — or at least managed. If you’ve got a presentation coming up, here are some ways to calm your nerves and pump up your confidence before you face a crowd.
Six months before: Take a class
Consider signing up for a public-speaking course, like those offered through Toastmasters International. You’ll learn specific techniques for improving your public speaking and find support from people who have overcome the same fears you have.
One month before: Practice obsessively
The more you prepare for your presentation, the less you’ll worry about giving it. Rehearse until you’ve memorized all your talking points and know your PowerPoint deck from the inside out. Try to shift your focus to the content of your presentation and think about why the topic is interesting.
One day before: Hydrate
To avoid that cottonmouth feeling, drink a lot of water the day before your presentation and stay hydrated on the day of. Consider bringing a bottle of water onstage, too. Taking sips has a hidden benefit: It buys you time to regroup or collect your thoughts in the middle of your talk.
Two hours before: Cut down on coffee
If you’re used to drinking coffee every day, don’t skip your morning cup — but don’t go overboard, either. Caffeine can trigger or amplify some of the classic symptoms of glossophobia, such as shaky hands, rapid heart rate and shortness of breath. Rather than making you feel more alert, too much coffee will make you feel jittery.
One hour before: Leave early
Rushing to your presentation will only add to your stress. Plan to get to your destination early, building in a cushion of 30 minutes or more. Not only will this keep your heart rate in check, but it will give you the opportunity to scope out the space where you’ll be presenting.
30 minutes before: Work the room
Walk around and mingle with the people who will be in your audience. Shake hands, make small talk, smile and be friendly. You’ll feel more comfortable with your audience if you know who they are. Having these short interactions will also serve as a reminder that your audience wants you to succeed, not fail.
During: Say cheese
Smiling is one of the best remedies for presentation jitters. Not only does it make you look personable and confident onstage, but it actually causes your brain to release feel-good hormones like dopamine and serotonin. And what does serotonin do? Reduces stress.