According to an article in Psychology Today, surveys show that people fear public speaking more than death — which means, as Jerry Seinfeld so eloquently put it, that the average person at a funeral would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy.
With that in mind, you shouldn’t be caught off guard if your child shows some trepidation over an upcoming oral presentation. Instead, help her fight through the stage fright and assure her that she can put on a compelling show.
Here are some ways to do just that:
Acknowledge your child’s anxiety, and let her know that it’s perfectly normal.
“Providing accurate information about anxiety can reduce confusion or shame,” suggests a tip sheet from Anxiety BC, a non-profit that promotes anxiety awareness. The organization suggests that it’s important to show your child that her fears are legitimate. The empathy you demonstrate will increase the chances that your child will express her worries to you later on.
Steven Cohen, a speech instructor at Harvard Extension School, says that one of the main fears underlying public speaking is uncertainty. People are uncertain about how their ideas will be perceived, how they’ll be judged, and the impression they’ll make.
Your child is no different. Cohen teaches his students instead to “focus on the opportunity that they have to stand in front of an audience and speak about something they care about.”
Try that with your child. Get her excited for the opportunity she has — “How often do you get to have a whole room of people listening to you?” — and help her see the joy of public speaking. If you can re-direct her focus on to the opportunity, her enthusiasm will take care of the rest.
You shouldn’t be doing the assignment (let alone the presentation) for her, but you may help your child plan it out. Share your own experiences giving presentations — both good and bad. Share what worked well, what didn’t, what people often react well to, and what they dislike. It will help her plan her own presentation.
Also, make a few suggestions to get her going. For example, encourage her to start with a joke to lighten the mood and grab the attention of her audience.
For your child to do well on her presentation — a prospect that entails fighting through her fear while she’s up there — she has to be comfortable. To be comfortable, she must know her presentation forwards and backwards. These feats come with practice.
What’s most important is that you help your child practice in specific ways, says Cohen. Encourage her to rehearse the presentation as much as possible before the big day. Cohen also recommends that your child speak in front of a mirror or record and then watch herself to understand what she does well and how she can improve.
The more relaxed your child is before and during the presentation, the easier it will be for her to manage her stage fright.
Cohen also suggests a few exercises to help ease a speaker’s nerves:
One of the most effective techniques she can use is to imagine her success. Visualizing the sequence of events, from walking into the room to getting applause at the end, can help her speak more confidently.
Tell your child to turn her palms up, take a deep breath in, and exhale the “T” sound, “t, t, t, t, t…” This can help your child feel focused and calm before starting a presentation.
While making eye contact in front of an audience is important, explain to your child that there are ways to fake this if doing so makes her nervous. She can look at the tops of people’s heads, foreheads, or the rims of their glasses.
Fear of public speaking comes from those critical voices in our heads, Cohen pointed out. Meditation helps dull these voices.
A very simple practice is known as the “mindfulness” meditation. According to Forbes, you should encourage your child to sit up straight; close her eyes while focusing on her breathing; and bring her attention back to the breathing each time her mind wanders.
Get your child to practice this meditation several leading up to the presentation, and just before she goes on. It will not only help Zen her out, but it will also teach her breathing techniques that she can rely on to keep calm during her presentation.