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.
It was exciting and inspiring to see so many of my former public speaking students graduate this week from Brown Mackie College in Phoenix. Following the ceremony, I had the opportunity to congratulate and chat with them for a few moments about their experiences. Many told me that what they learned in my public speaking class was already paying off as they begin to do job interviews. Others said the skills they learned are helping them communicate better in the workplace. Some said the skills they learned were even helping them in their interpersonal relationships. All said they were thankful they took the course. It was a very rewarding experience hearing that what they learned was helping them as they prepare to tackle the real world.
I was so proud of my students for overcoming their fears and becoming better presenters. And I learned as much from them as they did from me. In addition to the normal fears of public speaking, some of them faced additional challenges including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorder, and speech impediments. I will remember all of them for their perseverance and their accomplishments. The student pictured with me above was among the most memorable. She was so determined to deliver her persuasive speech the day after her lung surgery that she did so from her hospital bed via Skype. That set the bar pretty high!
The graduation ceremony was bittersweet. Brown Mackie College is closing and this was the last commencement ceremony ever. But that did not dampen the spirits of the Class of 2017. Congratulations graduates! Best of luck and may all of your speeches be great ones!
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!