It’s natural to be a little nervous just before you begin to perform any sort of public speaking. Even if you’re not particularly scared to speak, adrenaline may increase in the excitement of the moment. We often times can control our upper bodies by focusing but the nervous energy then goes to our feet and causes us to sway, pace or move our feet around a lot.
Here are two techniques to use to deal with nervous energy:
Burn off nervous energy. Nervous energy is natural. Some speakers are able to convert this nervous energy into presentation energy. Another strategy is to burn off some of that energy. You could d0 jumping jacks but that might look a little weird. Instead, try this “stealth” method to burn off energy that I learned from my mentor, Pam Chambers: Grip the side on your chair with your dominant hand and pull as hard as you can from the elbow up for 30 seconds. If you pull from the elbow, and not the shoulder, no one can tell you’re doing it!
Breathe Deeply. Your body needs oxygen but often your body goes into shallow breathing when you are nervous. Breathe from your diaphragm. There’s science behind how this helps. But now, let’s take a psychological approach. Moments before you go up to speak, draw a deep breath. As you do so, imagine you are sucking up all the negative energy inside your body — all the self-doubts, the fears, the nervousness. Now, blow out your breath and imagine all the negative energy is leaving your body in the form of bubbles. Imagine those bubbles are popping as they come out and y0ur fears are disappearing into thin air. This exercise is only as good as you make it.
I have clients and former students who swear the chair grip is the greatest thing ever and they thank me months after learning it. Others love the imaginary bubbles. Some love both and others find no value in either one. The trick is to find what works for you. When you do, you will deliver a more relaxed and more confident speech or business presentation.
In my 20-year career working at six major corporations, I witnessed many people who were passed over for promotions. Many found their ideas were not taken seriously. They just didn’t seem like “management material.” Most of them had the knowledge they needed to do the job. So why didn’t they advance in their careers? Answer: the fear of public speaking. They lacked the confidence to speak up and the communication skills to stand out, and it cost them.
Conversely, I’ve seen people who were very good talkers but didn’t necessarily have as much knowledge as others on their work teams. They often times were taken more seriously and got promotions they perhaps didn’t deserve. Ideally, those who advance in life should be good communicators and know what the heck they are talking about.
Don’t let fear paralyze your career. Before you can gain the confidence to speak and learn the skills to stand out in this highly competitive world, you have to first put fear in your rear view mirror.
You can begin to eliminate your fears of public speaking long before you step to the front of the room to deliver your business presentation or speech. You can take steps in the preparation phase that will reduce stress, anxiety and your fears of failure.
Preparing for Your Presentation
A speech or presentation begins as soon as you accept the assignment. That’s when you begin to do your audience analysis, content development and rehearsals.
Practice, practice, practice! There is no substitute. Practice aloud. Practice in front of a mirror. Practice in front of your friends or family. Record yourself. Have someone else read your speech to you.
Memorize your outline, not your speech. This will allow you to speak more authentically and appear to be more credible.
Believe at least one thing in your speech will be meaningful to at least one person in the audience. That’s not a high hurdle. But if you do not believe that with all your heart then you have two choices: rewrite your speech until you do believe it or stay home.
Make a packing list so you don’t forget handouts, visual aids, etc.
If you have presentation materials, scripts, or any technology, have a backup plan. Technology can and will fail.
Come prepared with a small bottle of room temperature water and throat drops. Keep them handy while you’re speaking. A coughing fit can ruin a presentation.
Remove coins, keys, etc. from your pockets. If you fidget with a ring or watch when you’re nervous, remove the distraction.
The more prepared you are, the less fearful you will be. We will look at additional steps to overcome public speaking fears future posts. So, don’t be afraid to check back frequently!
Are you afraid of public speaking? Well, you’re not alone, as illustrated in the humorous clip above from Jerry Seinfeld. Year after year, the fear of public speaking ranks No. 1 in study after study.
There’s even a fancy word to describe the fear of public speaking – glossophobia. Gloss comes from the Greek word for tongue and phobia, of course, is Greek for fear.
In our next post, we’ll present some tips to deal with anxiety and the fears you face when doing public speaking or making business presentations. But for now, know that you are not alone and help is on the way!
“If you can’t write your message in a sentence, you can’t say it in an hour.” ~ Dianna Booher
When you are preparing a speech or business presentation, take the time to develop a well-crafted thesis statement that explains what you want your audience to understand, believe or do when you have finished speaking. This one sentence statement will serve as the fountainhead for the rest of your speech and it’s worth taking the time to think it through and get it just right.
If you can’t figure out what you’re trying to say, your audience never will. But when you craft a great thesis statement, a speech can sometimes almost write itself.
Should you do everything possible to eliminate “ums” and “ahs” from your speaking? Some organizations and public speaking trainers go to great lengths to eradicate them. They charge fines, ring bells, snap rubber bands on wrists, embarrass you publicly and try all sorts of other methods to get you to stop making these filler noises. And yet, some of the greatest speakers of our time “um” and “ah.” For instance, Barrack Obama uses “um” and “ahs” a lot, but most people consider him to be a great orator.
So what should you do about your “ums” and “ahs?”
Here’s my take: If it’s not a distraction, don’t worry about the occasional “um” or “ah.” If you are preparing for a presentation, many of these filler noises will disappear anyway as you practice and become more comfortable with your content. Most people “um” and “ah” as a filler noise when they are trying to think of what to say next. Many speakers are afraid of silence and think every second must be filled with some sort of noise. But as you become more familiar with your content, you will be less concerned with what you’re going to say next. This is one of many reasons practice is important when preparing for a presentation.
If your “ums” and “ahs” are a distraction and aren’t dissipating even after you are familiar with your content, then you can work to eliminate the distraction by first becoming aware when you are doing it and then by concentrating on replacing the filler noises with a pause. It takes time and an intense focus, but you can eliminate these distractions and replace then with pauses. And, as discussed before, pauses can be incredibly powerful.
Being authentic and sincere affects your credibility and credibility is the most important quality to have to communicate effectively. So, relax. Be yourself. Be comfortable. And have fun!
“The success of your presentation will be judged not by the knowledge you send but by what the listener receives.” ~ Lilly Walters
Nervous ticks make you look less confident and make your message seem less credible. If you fiddle with a ring or watch while speaking, simply remove the objects. Likewise, empty change from your pockets. You could try to remember not to fidget with these objects, but you have enough to remember when you are presenting. Remove the distractions, remove the worry.
“You can speak well if your tongue can deliver the message of your heart.” ~ John Ford
The best speeches are stories. And the best stories are from your heart. The good news for public speakers is these stories don’t have to be memorized because they are your stories.
So, how do you tell a good story that stays on point? Try this storytelling formula:
Introduction (set the scene)
Problem or Conflict
The Outcome or Results (this is the point of the whole thing)
Storytelling is perhaps the most powerful form of communication. So, go on. Speak up and speak from your heart. Talk about what you know about. Talk about what you care about. Talk about your passions. And as always, be yourself and have fun!
“90% of how well the talk will go is determined before the speaker steps on the platform.” ~ Somers White
When does a speech begin? Answer: The moment you get the assignment. That’s when you begin the research and the planning for what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it. Great public speaking doesn’t just happen. A great presentation starts with a solid thesis statement and a well-thought-out outline. Investing the time upfront to develop a thesis and an outline will pay big dividends when you step to the microphone for your presentation.
I first saw legendary comedic actor Don Knotts present this hilarious “hero” speech in the above movie clip when “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” debuted in 1966. I was only 6 years old but even then I could clearly understand how scary it would be to have to go onstage to speak with the entire town looking at you. This movie continues to be one of my all-time favorites and the “hero” speech continues to resonate with me all these many years later.
There are so many mistakes Knott’s character, Luther Heggs, makes in this speech: his poor attempt at humor, his loose leaf script blows away, he has a heckler, the microphone has feedback issues, and he doesn’t know how to stand or how to control his nervous energy. But one thing saves this speech from being an unmitigated disaster: authenticity. Luther Heggs is who he is. His transparency and sincerity shine through in this speech and throughout the movie. He’s genuine and therefore credible. Audiences are very forgiving of mistakes made by sincere speakers. (Spoiler Alert: He beats out a slick rival and gets the girl in the end because of his authenticity.)
Authenticity always has been important in speech-making (and in fact in all communications) but it is even more important in the Digital Age. We’ve grown tired and beyond skepticism of overproduced, slick presentations as evidenced by the success of reality TV, SnapChat, and YouTube. The message that resonated with movie audiences in 1966 that still resonates today is this: be yourself. Atta boy Luther!