Nerves can get your heart pounding and your voice shaking. Nerves can make you sweat or make you short of breath. They can make your skin flush and upset your stomach.
Public speaking anxiety, also known as glossophobia, can induce all these symptoms and more. It’s one of the most common social fears. In fact, studies show that people are more afraid of public speaking than they are of dying! While that may seem a tad dramatic, there’s no doubt the fear is absolutely real.
Nerves, or stage fright, don’t just affect actors and professional presenters. They can strike anyone who has to get up and speak in front of audience, including those of us who have to deliver business presentations.
It probably doesn’t help at all to tell you that these symptoms are completely normal! Or, that you should be more worried if you don’t have them. They’re caused by the fight or flight response, a rush of adrenaline that is a primal – and essential – response to danger.
The problem is if these symptoms strike when there’s no genuine physical threat. You can feel as though you are out of control, spiraling down into a complete meltdown of stress and fear.
So, how do you stop nerves getting the better of you? We at Speechworks believe there are three key things you need to do to conquer your nerves:
- Prepare your MIND
- Prepare your BODY
- Prepare your ATTITUDE
Number 1: Prepare Your Mind
Practice, practice, practice! Even the best public speakers don’t just show up and wing it! That’s an invitation for disaster.
You should be practicing your presentation 10..20.. 30 times. Not just to get really familiar with it, but crucially, to give you a huge boost in confidence that will directly affect your ability to deliver your speech.
We don’t just mean reading your notes multiple times on the airplane on the way to your presentation. We mean standing up and actually practicing it OUT LOUD like a play! Preferably in front of colleagues, friends, family – even the dog. Practicing with an audience helps you be ready for the real thing. And no, you can never practice too much.
Also prepare your mind by visualizing success. Research suggests your brain doesn’t distinguish between an imagined activity and a real one. That’s why elite athletes imagine wowing the spectators with an out-of-the-ballpark performance. Visualize a successful presentation and your brain registers a win -win! Cheers to that!
Number 2: Prepare Your Body
We’ve already mentioned the normal adrenaline rush triggered by the fight or flight response. Rest assured, there are ways to flush that adrenaline out of your system.
Try some relaxation techniques before you speak. Stretch your arms, back, and legs, or do some yoga poses to reduce tension. Try some deep breathing exercises. Close your eyes and focus on long breaths out, instead of short, staggered breaths in.
Watch your breathing during your presentation too. People tend to panic and rush through their speech, forgetting to breathe. No wonder your face turns red and you start feeling dizzy. Practice slowing down your speech and pausing for breath. It also allows time for your audience to process information. If your voice tends to get shaky, try humming gently before a presentation to steady it.
Of course, exercise is also a great way to work off that excess adrenaline. It releases tension and boost endorphins ..those feel-good chemicals in your brain. Aim for at least thirty minutes of exercise before your presentation. Try climbing the stairs or taking a brisk walk. Billy Crystal used to work out his nerves by doing push-ups back stage before presenting the Academy Awards.
If you can’t do full blown exercises, try isometrics. Press hard against a wall with all your strength, or just push your fists together to diffuse that energy.
Laughter is also a great workout and a natural relaxant. Watch your favorite comedy show or YouTube video before you hit the podium.
Finally – eat something before you speak, but try not to overeat. Also avoid caffeine which will just add to the jitters.
Number 3: Prepare Your Attitude
This is possibly the most important point. A positive attitude is essential for a good performance. Shy away from negative thoughts. Tell yourself you are prepared and ready to be the best you can be.
More importantly, realize it is NOT all about you! It’s about being audience-focused, not self-focused. Embrace the fact that you are there to serve your audience and give them what they need. You’re not there to win brownie points for yourself. That knowledge should help you feel better.
Finally, accept that you may never completely eradicate nervousness. Learn to live with some anxiety. Even the best performers feel nervous. In fact, many believe that nerves can give you an edge that actually makes you a better speaker.
Meanwhile, you can always just fake it till you make it! Convey confidence right from the start by arriving early, and smiling and chatting with your audience even before your presentation starts. No one else knows your heart is racing and your palms are sweating. Before you know it, neither will you.
Ultimately, know that your audience is not the enemy! They are usually rooting for you. No-one enjoys seeing someone fail. So, embrace the moment, have a positive attitude and get the job done!
Julie Lindsay draws on a long career in television news to help clients speak in a way that is simple and persuasive. She began her journalism career with the BBC in London, reporting on everything from terrorist attacks and natural disasters, to war zones and revolutions. Next, came a move to the U.S. as anchor and editor on CNN International.
She also served as Chief Managing Editor with WebMD in the U.K. and then programming editor of Global Health Frontline News, making documentaries about kids fighting curable diseases around the world.