What happens to your brain when you do public speaking or presentations?

By Cliff Dumas
CMA, ACM & CCMA Winning Broadcaster

You know the feeling, your heart is pounding and your palms are sweaty. You would rather be anywhere else than standing in front of a crowd. Whether it’s one of one thousand, public speaking, doing presentations, standing on stage or in front of a camera can be a gut-wrenching experience.

How can you overcome that fear?

The best way to conquer the anxiety of public speaking is to be ferocious in your prep and planning. The more prepared you are the more confidence you will have. Give yourself the gift of practicing your presentation or speech in front of friends or family. Video your speech and self-critique your performance. The more scenarios you create that mimic your actual event, the more comfortable you will be in the moment.

The reality is, if you are planning to present anything in your life (which you most likely will), you will need to be able to effectively communicate your ideas whether it’s to one or thousands.

You can use the Power Of Three as a simple structure to create your speeches and presentations and we’ll reveal how to do that in a moment. First, what causes fear? We are hardwired to worry about our reputation, of not wanting to be embarrassed above almost all things. There are primitive parts of your brain that control your fight or flight reaction. Embracing it, understanding it and channeling it is the key to overcoming this fear.

What happens in our brain?

When you think about negative consequences, a part of your brain called the hypothalamus, activates and triggers the pituitary gland to secrete the hormone ACTH. This hormone stimulates the Adrenal Glands in your kidneys and results in the release of adrenaline into your blood.



Your experience of stage fright is also affected by 3 main things:

1. Genetics
Genetics play a huge role in how strong your feelings of anxiety are in social situations. For instance, even though John Lennon performed in front of millions yet he was known for throwing up before going on stage for his live performances.
Some people are simply genetically wired to feel more scared when performing or speaking in public.

2. Prep and planning and mastery of the material.
Practice makes perfect. The main benefit of practice is to increase your familiarity of your material or task and heighten your performance. As this familiarity increases, feelings of anxiety decrease, and have less of a negative impact on performance.
In other words, the anxiety you feel about speaking in public will be less, the more comfortable you feel with your presentation.

3. What’s at stake?
Your level of anxiety will naturally be in direct proportion to the importance of the speech or presentation. You have probably experienced this effect or witnessed it on TV shows like The Voice or American Idol, when the pressure is on there is a greater perceived risk of failure.

This emotion triggers the release of more adrenaline, and can result in paralyzing fear and anxiety.



So, how can you use the Power Of Three to overcome this fear?

Apply the three “R’s” to your storytelling. Reason, Reveal, Resolution. Give your audience the hook, the reason they need to listen and stay engaged. Reveal the content of the story, and take your audience on a journey. Then offer the resolution; always have a culmination of the tale.

Improve your comedic timing.  1) Set up the topic, 2) establish a pattern, and then 3) break the pattern, surprising listeners with the punch line (See the 3R’s of Storytelling in the free module or in Module Five: Storytelling). One simple way of doing this is to pair two similar ideas, and then introduce a third incongruent (the surprise) punch line.

Use The Rule of Three to package your ideas so that they are more memorable to your audience. For example, we named our structure for planning and executing content “CPR,” Create, Prepare, Rehearse. Create the scenario, prepare how the content will be delivered, and rehearse the execution. Rehearse until you can deliver your story, presentation or speech with confidence.

One last tip: Breath!



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