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10 proven ways to nail public speaking

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Public speaking ranks as one of the nations biggest phobias, according to a YouGov survey released earlier this year.

Here are 10 ways to help you embrace the critical glare of an anticipant audience:

PRETEND YOU'RE SOMEONE ELSE

According to psychology professor Thomas Plante from Santa Clara University, people can overcome anxiety over public speaking by thinking of a confident public speaker they admire - then pretending to be an actor playing that person.

It may seem like quite a complicated exercise in self-deception, but he says that by channelling your inner actor, your behaviour will follow your forced actions.

"Research, as well as best clinical practices, has demonstrated that if you can behave in a particular way (e.g., confident, comfortable) then your feelings will follow your behaviour," he wrote in Psychology Today. "For example, force a smile or laugh and you’ll likely feel a little better. Force a frown and you’ll likely feel a little worse. In a nutshell, if you can act like a comfortable and confident speaker (even if you don’t feel that way) you’ll find that you’ll start to feel comfortable and confident over time."

CREATE A 'PERSONAL STYLE'

Winston Churchill was one of the greatest orators of the 20th century, but public speaking didn't come naturally to the late prime minister.

His stammer and lisp caused him much anxiety and were traits he feared would hold him back in politics.

To get round this he created what is described by leading Churchill commentator David Cannadine in his book In Churchill's Shadow, as a "personal style".

He chose "unusual words and phrases so as to avoid the treacherous rhythm of everyday speech" and studied the speeches of a range of great orators, mixing their most distinctive traits with his own delivery.

MEDITATE TO REDUCE NERVES

Instead of panicking before your big speech, book a meeting room, close the blinds and tell everyone you're on a 'important call'. Then tap into some much-needed inner peace with a spot of quiet meditation for half an hour. A study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore found it helps people to alleviate anxiety and depression.

“A lot of people use meditation, but it’s not a practice considered part of mainstream medical therapy for anything,” said the university's Madhav Goyal. “But in our study, meditation appeared to provide as much relief from some anxiety and depression symptoms as what other studies have found from antidepressants.”

GET A LAVENDER MASSAGE

Standing up to face people in a presentation situation makes most people restless and nervous but scientific evidence cited by the University of Maryland Medical Center suggests that aromatherapy with lavender can slow down the nervous system and reduce anxiety.

Not only that, but it's also been found to lift and stabilise mood and enhance concentration.

Rather than simply inhaling a whiff of lavender oil before stepping onto the podium, book a massage. [Studies suggest that getting a rubdown with the oil is particularly effective in combating nerves.

HAVE A GOOD NIGHT'S SLEEP...FOR A LIVELY VOICE

Don't even think about missing out on sleep to practice your speech - researchers have found that people's voice "flattens" after being awake for too long.

Research from the University of Melbourne found that the more tired we are, the less control we have over our speech muscles - slowing our voices down and and diminishing the gravity of tone.

"Individual voice patterns diminish the more tired you become, so you lose your voice personality, you become a bit flatter," acoustician Dr Adam Vogel told the Sydney Morning Herald.

TAKE TIPS FROM THE EXPERTS

You could do worse than take advice from Barack Obama.

Handily, the President's debate trainers offered some ultra professional tips in their book last year Double Down. Public Speaking Truth summarises and analyses the advice here.

GET EXCITED

You've got to do a speech - yay! That may not be your natural reaction to public speaking, but according to a study by the American Psychological Association, people who tell themselves to get excited before a speech, rather than trying to relax, can improve their performance.

“Anxiety is incredibly pervasive. People have a very strong intuition that trying to calm down is the best way to cope with their anxiety, but that can be very difficult and ineffective,” said study author Dr Alison Wood Brooks, of Harvard Business School. “When people feel anxious and try to calm down, they are thinking about all the things that could go badly. When they are excited, they are thinking about how things could go well.”

CHANNEL YOUR FEAR

Stage fright isn't a bad thing - in fact it can be used to your advantage before a big speech, according to psychologists from the University of Rochester.

"The problem is that we think all stress is bad, " lead author Jeremy Jamieson, explained. "We see headlines about 'Killer Stress' and talk about being 'stressed out.'" Before speaking in public, people often interpret stress sensations, like butterflies in the stomach, as a warning that something bad is about to happen.

"But those feelings just mean that our body is preparing to address a demanding situation. The body is marshaling resources, pumping more blood to our major muscle groups and delivering more oxygen to our brains."

In other words, some fear is natural and helps us perform better under the glare of an audience.

TALK TO YOURSELF

In an age of bluetooth headsets, muttering to yourself as you wander down the street is perfectly acceptable - and according to experts "Self-talk" can have a positive, motivational effect.

"We all do it, whether we're aware of it or not," Dr. Elizabeth Bernstein told the Wall Street Journal. "Athletes do it all the time and we can learn from them. They talk themselves through the task."

She advises keeping it short, precise and consistent and - this sounds a little odd - says we should address ourselves by our first name, rather than "I", to add "distance".

A TIPPLE'S NOT OUT OF THE QUESTION

Amanda Seyfried admitted in 2012 that she indulged in a small alcoholic sharpener before appearing on a talk-show to get her through her stage fright.

"I understand that I have a problem, maybe," she joked. "But you know what? It really gets me through."

Obviously we're not advocating using alcohol as a crutch before your next big speech though - especially if it's a work presentation.

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