Go from terrified to TED Talk status.
To all of you who get jitters at the thought of giving a presentation at work, pitching a big idea, or slaying an upcoming interview, turns out your fear is legit. Speech anxiety is known as glossophobia, and it’s estimated that 75 percent of us suffer from it, making it one of the most common phobias out there. The bad news? Public speaking is tough to avoid, especially for those of us striving for boss status. The good news? There are ways to deal with it and overcome—beyond the old “just imagine everyone naked” tip.
We spoke with Casey Erin Clark, co-founder of Vital Voice Training, a voice and speech coaching company that helps clients communicate with charisma and confidence, to get all the public-speaking intel you need. The truth is, owning your voice and making yourself heard is a key skill for any leader—especially for us ladies. So let’s use ours to help shatter every glass ceiling, shall we?
1. RETHINK YOUR “UMS” AND “UHS...”
If you’re stressed about overusing filler words, Clark has some key advice to help you relax: “Filler words (ums, uhs, likes, you knows, etc.) get a really bad rap. Step #1: Realize that filler words are not the death knell of gravitas and maturity. Everyone uses them! That said if you want to work on using them less, start with why they come out.”
According to Clark, the main reasons we lean on filler words include subbing in for silence (silence can be scary during a speech), “buying time” to think, or simply because it’s a habit and used often among our peers. Clark explains: “‘Like’ and ‘you know’ are casual. They can signal comfort and chill. They’re useful social currency in some situations, but they may not serve you as well in more formal ones. ”
When it comes to buying time to think about your next word, Clark offers up this alternative strategy: “Next time you’re trying to think on your feet, try substituting ‘um’ with an inhale—I bet you’ll come up with what you want to say more efficiently. Breath not only fuels our voice, but it also fuels our brain and our ability to think.” Boom.
As for silence? No stress. Clark continues: “For you to truly land your points and be heard and understood, we need moments of silence. Sometimes we use fillers instead of commas and periods—so instead of sentences that make sense to your listener, you get a stream of consciousness. Great speakers know how to use the rhythm and music of speech. They know how to end a sentence and let it shimmer in the space for a second—to let the audience absorb what they’re saying—before they move on. It’s an act of courage to finish a sentence without trailing off, adding “you know?” or dropping your energy, but it makes all the difference in the world for connecting with your audience.”
2. ENGAGE IN SELF-TALK & BREATHE
Public speaking can be especially challenging for the introverts among us. Clark offers this advice: “It all goes back to self-talk and breath. We work with our clients to develop a ‘winning routine’ (props to Charles Duhigg and The Power of Habit for the term!) that works for them. Sometimes that looks like a positive ‘psych yourself up self-talk’ routine. Sometimes it’s listening to a particular song. Sometimes it’s a stretch or an exercise to make sure they are taking space in a powerful way—or a combination of all of it! No matter what, we talk about how to recognize the beginning of the stress cycle—that rising feeling of anxiety or panic that makes your breath shallower and your hands shake and the back of your neck hot and sweaty. When that starts, the least helpful thing is to try to shut it off—because physiologically, you can’t. What you can do is take your foot off the stress accelerator and consciously reframe: tell yourself that you are safe (there’s no lion in the corner about to eat you), recognize that your body is giving you extra ‘juice’ for a difficult task ahead (it’s all energy, right?), and b-r-e-a-t-h-e.”
3. MIND YOUR POSTURE
Yogis and pilates fans, this one’s for you: cue up your core.
“That awareness of your core—the swing of your rib cage, the width of your shoulders and your hips, the fact that you have a front, sides, and back, is also key to taking space in a powerful way. Power poses (aka the Wonder Woman arms thing) can be fun, but they major in peripheral space: your arms and legs. Taking space powerfully starts from the center of your body. Posture is a direction, not a destination. Be aware of your tension points, and retain the feeling of movement and energy flow.”
Turns out our anxiety can be rooted in societal cues: “Keep in mind that socialization can cause some really sticky feelings about taking space—women tend to be socialized to take up less space, or to feel that by taking space themselves, they might be taking space away from others. Your physical body, words, and ideas deserve to take up space in the world. By taking that space, not only can you still hold space for others to do the same, you can inspire them to be braver and more conscious in taking space powerfully.”
4. CHECK IN WITH YOUR AUDIENCE
Clark, a professionally trained actress, elaborates: “The other piece of the puzzle is your audience. If you only think about yourself—your breath, your body, your thoughts—you aren’t communicating powerfully. People always ask actors how we don’t get nervous onstage.”
Truth? “1) We do get nervous because we’re human. We’re just used to what nerves feel like in our bodies, so we don’t get as hijacked by them. Discomfort isn’t the enemy. And 2) We take the focus off of ourselves (“Do they like me? Is this going well?”) by focusing on our scene partner and what we want to accomplish in the scene.”
So engage with your audience throughout your speech or interview. Clark explains, “Not because you can control their reactions (you can’t), but so you can see how things are landing, adjust your delivery as needed, and make sure you are being heard and understood. Then let it go, and be present in your body and in the room.”
5. SLEEP & ENJOY SELF-CARE
For starters, try to clear your schedule the day before and ensure your speech is a done deal so that you can take it easy. “By the night before a presentation or interview, there’s not much you can do other than the basics—aim for a good night’s sleep, eat something satisfying, don’t drink too much, maybe take a bubble bath or do some yoga. But you will feel much more capable of relaxing if you’ve done your prep work in advance.”
Procrastinators, this one’s for you: “The night before is not the moment to actually write your presentation or do your research for the interview (although all of us, including me, are guilty of it!).” You don’t want to come across robotic or over-rehearsed, but what Clark refers to as “intentional preparation” allows you to feel grounded and powerful. “The better prepared you are, the more you can let go, be in the moment, and respond to what’s happening in the room.”
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