“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that seem right? That means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
– Jerry Seinfeld
We often read that people’s fear of public speaking is greater than their fear of death. The science behind this claim is probably dubious, but like any other juicy factoid this one has a life of it’s own. I have spoken in front of many audiences, and some people mistakenly think that I don’t get nervous before walking on stage. But I do, and I want to share with you two mindsets that can help you as your heart rate elevates, your palms start to sweat, and your “fight or flight” instinct tells you to run for the nearest exit.
If these mindsets were on Sesame Street, we would say that they were “brought to you by the letter P” since each use alliteration and the letter P to help us remember them.
The first is to remember that the physical signs of anxiety prior to walking on stage is your body Preparing itself for Peak Performance.
When you experience this type of anxiety, your hearing and vision are more acute, your heart rate increases, and your blood vessels dilate to increase blood flow to your muscles. You must recognize this for what it is: your body is ready to perform. It is not fighting against you; it is your ally. You are ready.
The second mindset I just heard for the first time today. It comes from Billie Jean King: “Pressure is a Privilege”.
When you’re in front of people, that means you are meant to be there. The pressure you feel is a privilege. It is something you have earned. Enjoy it! Treat it as a gift. Remind yourself that you are lucky to have this opportunity. Feel a sense of gratitude as you lean forward, ready to begin.
I’ve learned a lot about how to present to a large audience, and I am by no means perfect. I have had bad presentations. I know that it ain’t easy. Like many things, success is largely tied to having the right mindset.
Remember these five P’s the next time you feel the anxiety build up. Welcome that anxiety. Perhaps say to it “hi there – I was expecting you”, and then gently put it to the side and refocus on your opening. Your body is preparing itself for the peak performance that is to come. It is a privilege for you to feel this anxiety at this moment.