Public speaking is a nightmare for a lot of people, and anxiety doesn’t make it any easier. Talking to a professional can help, particularly if panic enters into it, but some people have found their own tricks for getting past the fear.
Max Gladstone, author of The Craft Sequence, recently shared his own technique on Quora. His answer made its way into entreprenuereal circles and spread from there, because people everywhere hate the idea of talking in front of a crowd — and yet many of us have to do it despite that.
Gladstone’s secret? Don’t be yourself. Don’t even try to be yourself. Be someone who can handle the speaking task ahead of you.
If you, the real, squishy you, are on stage in front of all those people, then horrible things might happen. You can crash and burn. Someone out there in the dark will hate you. Fortunately, unless you’re doing a very specific kind of performance art, most audiences don’t really want to see that fullness of vulnerability. They expect to see something polished but not too polished, something similar to real life, but heightened, smoothed, and secure.
In short, you’re trying not to be yourself, but to be a specific aspect of yourself–a public mask. That mask doesn’t have to be all that different from you, in fact it’s probably best if it’s not, but it can be less vulnerable–and because it’s less vulnerable, because performance is a paradoxical business, the mask of you doesn’t need to be as defensive as the real you. The mask can present its material and engage with the audience without fear–with the kind of compassion strength allows.
Of course, anxiety disorders can’t be entirely overcome by acting like someone who isn’t anxious, but there is some truth to the idea that you can “fake it ’til you make it,” even when dealing with social anxiety. It’s no substitute for tackling your mental health issues directly, though. Still, if you need to get out in front of a crowd and you’re not sure how, Gladstone’s advice may be a good place to start.
Check out his full answer, including some concrete steps to take, at Quora.