Overcoming Nervousness and Anxieties

Most teachers, whether they are first time TAs or experienced instructors, often feel nervous when standing up in front of a class of students. After all, public speaking can be scary, and teaching is a form of public speaking. It is perfectly normal for you to be nervous about teaching, especially if this is your first time as a TA. The following two articles give helpful advice on ways to reduce your nervousness while presenting material to your students.

Managing Nervousness
Adapted from a handout by David W. Richardson, CSP

It is well known that the number one fear of human beings is that of getting up and speaking before a group of people. That’s even greater than the fear of death, although many believe that both will occur simultaneously. If you are nervous when getting up to make a presentation, you are not alone. In fact, if you are not slightly nervous prior to making a presentation, you could actually blow it.

Here are some tips to help you take that nervous energy and turn it into powerful adrenaline:

  • Think positively – visualize yourself delivering a successful presentation.
  • Deliver an audience-centered presentation – when you are more interested in what they will get out of it rather that what you put into it, you cannot help but be successful.
  • Take three deep breaths – inhale to the count of eight and exhale to that same count.
  • Seek out three pleasant faces – your listeners will exhibit a variety of facial expressions, body postures, and an overall general interest as you prepare to speak.  As you begin, seek out three pleasant faces. Gather energy from their positive response. Remember, though, to also make eye contact with your other listeners during your presentation.
  • Rehearse and practice – in front of the mirror, or for a friend, spouse, or family member. Audio or video tape your rehearsal, then evaluate your pace, inflection, and overall delivery.
  • Practice before going to bed – make it the very last thing you do before you go to sleep – you’ll wake up with it fresh in your mind.
  • Check out the room – prior to the presentation, check out the room where you’ll be presenting. Visualize this space when you practice.
  • Have a quiet dinner with a calm person the session before your presentation – avoid tension or stress.

Above all, remember:

  • Only you know what you’re going to say. If things do not go exactly as you had planned, no one else will know it meant to be different.
  • Your audience is there because they believe that you have something important to say.

Overcoming Speaking Anxiety in Meetings and Presentations
By Lenny Laskowski

Do your knees feel like Gumby’s when you have to get up and speak in front of a group? Do you feel like the next words out of your mouth are going to be the dumbest words ever uttered by a human?

If you said yes to either of the questions above, be advised, you have a full-blown case of stage fright, says Lenny Laskowski, a professional speaker and President of Newington based LJL Seminars.

According to the book of lists, the fear of speaking in public is the #1 fear of all fears.  The fear of dying is #71. Over 41% of people have some fear or anxiety dealing with speaking in front of groups. People who have this fear can experience all kinds of symptoms: sweaty palms, accelerated heart rate, memory loss, and even difficulty in breathing. Some of the world’s most famous presenters have freely admitted to nervousness and stage fright. Mark Twain said it best, “there are two types of speakers: those that are nervous and those that are liars.”

Everyone, even experienced speakers, has some anxiety when speaking in front of a group of people. This is perfectly normal. Lenny says that the best way to deal with this anxiety is to first acknowledge that this fear is perfectly normal and you are not alone. To reduce your fear, you need to make sure you properly and thoroughly prepare yourself before you speak. Proper preparation and rehearsal can help to reduce this fear by about 75%. Proper breathing techniques can further reduce this fear by another 15%. Your mental state accounts for the remaining 10%.

Below are just a few suggestions you should use to overcome your speaking anxiety. The first and most important of all is preparation. I like to think of it as the 9 P’s: Prior Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance of the Person Putting on the Presentation. Nothing will relax you more than to know you are properly prepared.

Ten steps you can take to reduce your speech anxiety:

  1. Know the Room – become familiar with the place in which you will speak. Arrive early and walk around the room including the speaking area. Stand at the lectern, speak into the microphone. Walk around where the audience will be seated. Walk from where you will be seated to the place where you will be speaking.
  2. Know the Audience – If possible, greet some of the audience as they arrive and chat with them. It is easier to speak to a group of friends than to a group of strangers.
  3. Know Your Material – If you are not familiar with your material or are uncomfortable with it, your nervousness will increase. Practice your speech or presentation and revise it until you can present it with ease.
  4. Learn How to Relax – You can ease tension by doing exercises. Sit comfortably with your back straight. Breathe in slowly, hold your breath for 4 to 5 seconds, then slowly exhale. To relax your facial muscles, open your mouth and eyes wide, then close them rightly.
  5. Visualize Yourself Speaking – Imagine yourself walking confidently to the lectern as the audience applauds. Imagine yourself speaking, your voice loud, clear, and assured. When you visualize yourself as successful, you will be successful.
  6. Realize People Want You to Succeed – All audiences want speakers to be interesting, stimulating, informative, and entertaining. They want you to succeed – not fail.
  7. Don’t Apologize For Being Nervous – Most of the time your nervousness does not show at all. If you don’t say anything about it, nobody will notice. If you mention your nervousness or apologize for any problems you think you have with your speech, you’ll only be calling attention to it. Had you remained silent, your listeners may not have noticed at all.
  8. Concentrate on Your Message – Not yourself. Your nervous feelings will dissipate if you focus your attention away from your anxieties and concentrate on your message and your audience, not yourself.
  9. Turn Nervousness into Positive Energy – the same nervous energy that causes stage fright can be an asset to you. Harness it, and transform it into vitality and enthusiasm.
  10. Gain Experience – Experience builds confidence, which is the key to effective speaking. Most beginning speakers find their anxieties decrease after each speech they give.