Nervous? You are not alone. Popular surveys conducted over the past few years show that the fear of standing in front of a group of people to speak is consistently one of the highest-ranked fears in the United States, often even higher than the fear of death (and snakes). While teaching your first class might be different from, say, giving a lecture at a political event or a speech at a wedding, the anxiety caused by so many pairs of eyes all fixed on you can feel very much the same. And, unfortunately, trying to avoid or ignore these feelings simply won’t make them go away—in fact, refusing to acknowledge your fears may cause you to lose control to them later on. Is there anything we can do, then, to keep our knees from shaking and our palms from sweating?
Yes! Suggestions and helpful advice are easy to find, but it might take a little trial and error to really get clear on what will work best for you. Although this may take some time, in the end, it will be well worth the effort as you approach the podium with greater composure and confidence. Here are a few ideas to try on your own:
- Be prepared. Plan out in advance what you are going to wear, what you want to say, even how you will stand and what to do with your hands.
- Then, distract yourself. With a plan firmly in place, focus on any relaxing activity that you enjoy. Physical activity is an especially good choice, as it helps regulate the extra adrenaline generated by your heightened levels of anxiety.
TA Testimony— on preparing for class: "I knew what I was going to wear the night prior to class. Oh, and I went on a run first thing in the morning. I also run mornings I present at conferences to shake the jitters."
- Do your best to relax, which includes avoiding caffeinated beverages. Talk your significant other into giving you a quick massage, or maybe try a little yoga.
- Breathe! When we get tense, our breathing often becomes quick and shallow. Focus on taking deep breaths, or perhaps teach yourself a breathing exercise that encourages deep breathing.
- Imagine yourself delivering your speech or class lecture in a successful way, and try to hold that image in your mind as you begin.
- Don’t be afraid to acknowledge your nervousness, but don’t dwell on it, either. Remember, you are not alone! Your audience just might admire your guts for doing something they are scared to death to do!
- Try a little humor to diffuse any lingering tenseness. A little laugh goes a long way!
- Be yourself, but be your “best self.” One sure-fire way to fail is to try and act out someone else’s idea of what a teacher or speaker “ should be.” Try to present your “best self,” with all that makes you unique firmly in place but still appropriate for the circumstances.