Public speaking can trigger all sorts of reactions from people. While some people get the most-reported reactions like the heart rate up and the sweaty palms, others get the less-heard-about ones like blushing. When they speak, all their blood rushes to their face and they end up, well, really red.
It wouldn’t be a problem if you were alone in your house or with only close friends and family. But when the blushing is seen by hundreds or thousands of people while you’re speaking, and they think you’re having some kind of allergic reaction to something, that might be a problem. Instead of your audience concentrating on what you have to say, after all, they end up concentrating on you.
That said, how can you stop yourself from blushing when speaking in public, then? Let’s look at six ways. But first, let’s ask the question: How come we blush in the first place?
What Causes Blushing? The Science Behind IT!
There’s a perfectly good scientific explanation for why people blush. According to Dr. Phil Kesten, associate vice provost for undergraduate studies at the University of Santa Clara, blushing is part of the body’s fight or flight response.
When you’re in a stressful situation, adrenaline doesn’t just increase your heart rate or allow your pupils to dilate to let more light in. It also prompts your blood vessels to dilate to ensure that your body gets the energy it needs in the parts that need it the most. The blood vessels in the face dilate, too, allowing for more blood to flow. The result? Well, that red (or pink) face.
Strategies to Help You Stop Blushing When Public Speaking
Now that we know the science of blushing, let’s take a look at some of the strategies you can implement to prevent such episodes. You don’t have to use all of these strategies at once. Just pick the one you think will work, and if it does, stick to it. Some people might need a combination of strategies, and that’s perfectly alright, too.
The thing about blushing is this: you can’t control it. It’s just the body’s natural response to a perceived threat. And the perceived threat? Well, it’s public speaking.
So, if you can’t control the blushing, then, does that mean there’s nothing else you can do about it? Not really. Since you know blushing is the body’s response to a stimulus, if you remove that stimulus, you can stop the blushing from happening in the first place.
You obviously can’t remove public speaking from the picture, (you can’t just up and leave and let the organizers do all the talking to the audience), but you can make the body believe that public speaking is not a threat at all instead. That’s where deep breathing can help you.
When you take deep breaths, you convince your body that you’re safe and that it doesn’t need to react that way. Taking deep breaths activates the parasympathetic system that calms the body down. You could do the normal deep breathing exercises you know (as simple as breathing in and out slowly) but if you want one that will get things done in under a minute, Esther Stanhope, public speaking author, recommends using the blow the candle and smell the roses technique:
Under this method, you smell the roses (breathe in) for eight beats, then blow the candle (breathe out) for ten beats. Repeat the process three times and your body should reach its rested state soon.
2. Identify possible blush “enhancers”
So, we know public speaking is the trigger. That doesn’t mean, however, that there are no longer other factors that can contribute to the event. For instance, for some people, drinking coffee can enhance the blushing episode. Instead of the typical pinkish color they get when they’re speaking in front of an audience, the color becomes a bit more intense. Or if they just had a spicy meal before the presentation, the blushing becomes more frequent throughout the presentation.
Each case may be different for each individual. The key is to be conscious of your routine and your blushing episodes. Once you identify other blush “enhancers,” you can remove these from your routine before you go on stage.
Remember when we said you could trick your body into thinking public speaking is not a threat to prevent a blushing episode? Well, this is kind of related to that. It has been scientifically proven that when you smile, even when you’re under a lot of stress, the body may be tricked into thinking you’re in a relaxed state. When that happens, it won’t see the need to trigger the blushing episode.
A study by researchers Tara Kraft and Sarah Pressman noted that this applies even when you fake your smile. Participants in their study who wore a Duchenne smile with the use of chopsticks had lower rates during stress recovery, just like the other participants who wore genuine smiles.
There’s another way you can convince your body that you’re not at all stressed. When you exercise, you may help increase your body’s production of endorphins, which are associated with a general feeling of well-being. When you have more of these “feel-good” transmitters, your body won’t pick up on those stimuli it typically perceives as “threats.”
So, before you go on stage, try doing some push-ups or jumping jacks, whatever works for you. You can allocate a good five minutes to the exercise session, then another five minutes just to clean up. Manage your time well. Remember that you need the bathroom break before you go on stage after your session. If you don’t wash up, you might end up distracting your audience just the same. You might not blush when you get on stage but the excessive sweat from workout might prove just as distracting.
5. Cool Off
Okay, like strategy number 2, this is a strategy that won’t actually stop you from blushing. But since implementing it can help make the blushing less intense, I included it here anyway. Here it goes!
Since blushing tends to be more intense in warm temperatures, it might help if you cooled off before you went on stage. There are many ways you can do this.
Maybe hold yourself up in a room with air conditioning before you make your presentation. Or you can just take a walk outside if it’s winter and soak in the sights and sounds of the city before you go on stage. Be conscious of what you’re wearing, too. If you’re wearing two layers of clothes, maybe a sweater and a jacket on top, I suggest dropping one layer so you can reduce your chances of feeling hot when you’re speaking in public. If you find the venue too hot, you can ask the organizers to make the venue colder if it’s possible, as well.
As a final tip, make sure you’re hydrated before you go on stage. The water, especially if it’s cold, can help your body temperature before your presentation.
6. Come to Peace with Your Blushing
Here’s the thing. It’s a fact that people who are conscious about their blushing blush more than those who are not. Just think about it. If you worry too much about blushing, your body will sense the stress and think you’re faced with a threat. The result is that the body activates the fight or flight response and, in the end, well, you blush even more.
So, you want my advice on how you can stop blushing when speaking in public? Don’t sweat it too much. According to Dijk, when you’re generally uninterested in what other people think of you, you might even lower the likelihood you’ll blush. Besides, according to the researcher, blushing does come with benefits. Some people even think it’s cute.
How to Stop Blushing When Public Speaking: Final Thoughts
It’s not ideal for a speaker to blush when making a presentation in public, especially if the blushing is intense. After all, this might prompt the audience to focus on the speaker himself or herself, and not on the message. That might result in a failed message delivery.
If you’re one of those people who blush when speaking in public, don’t think that all is lost. Although blushing is the body’s natural response, there are ways you can stop yourself from doing this when making an important presentation. You learned some of those strategies from this article. When you breathe, for instance, you can trick the body into thinking you’re not facing any threat. When you smile and exercise, you do the same thing.
If you identify the other possible blush “enhancers” in your routine and remove them, you can also make the blushing less intense. When you cool off and get hydrated, you ensure your body won’t be subjected to or feel that warmth typically associated with more intense blushing.
The final tip I think is the one that carries a bit more weight than the rest. Don’t care about the blushing at all. Because if you don’t care as much, you might get fewer blushing episodes in the first place. And in the end, without you knowing it, those blushing episodes are long gone.
Whichever strategy you choose to implement, make sure you stick to it and make it a habit.
For more resources to develop your public speaking skills while you are in the comforts of your own home, please check the articles Online Resources for Public Speaking and Where Can I Learn Public Speaking. If you would like to leverage the best presentation software for your next big speaking engagement please read the article 'Best Presentation Technology tools'.