Do you get nervous in public speaking situations? You’re not alone, most people do. Even the ones who are really good at it often feel that surge of energy. Why because we care; maybe even too much. I love public speaking and I still get nervous. I’ve learned to manage that energy by channeling it into preparation and devlivery.
How can you shift from avoiding to embracing public speaking? Adjust your MINDSET, so you can change your relationship with that nervous energy.
My discomfort with public speaking was holding me back from doing what I really wanted to do; I was NOT ok with that. In the end, I realized that when we are courageous enough to lean into our fears and work through them wonderful things happen. We can learn how to use our nervous energy to deliver something great.
So can you! First, do it anyway. Go ahead and book your speaking engagement. Second, accept the fear you feel and then use it to focus on getting ready. Here are 5 things I learned, that can help you turn a case of the nervous jitters into a great speech.
When I first started my nerves and voice were out of control. The pitch was all over; my voice (and body) shaky and unstable. Not only did I feel it, but everyone in the room could sense it. Someone came up to me early on and said “Janene, I need to teach you some breathing exercises.” (many thanks to Charlie)
Breathing exercises have a calming affect and can soften (or even help you avoid) emotional triggers. For many of us when we step in front of a crowd our protection instinct is triggered – which is why we want to fight, flight or freeze (FFF). As our bodies prepare to react (FFF), nervous energy is released in the form of a red face, sweaty palms, heat or cold, shaking, shallow breathing, etc. The instinct to FFF might have been useful in caveman days when danger was a hungry tiger, but as a speaker it doesn’t serve us as well.
Breathing techniques can improve the quality of your voice. Of course when you’re nervous and not breathing properly the pitch and quality of your voice changes; breathing becomes shallow. It’s like the difference between a flute and piccolo. If you shorten the instrument the pitch goes higher – so we end up speaking in a higher-pitched voice rather than deeper, stable voice.
Learn breathing techniques; to calm and improve voice quality.
Be Comfortable with Your Content
Know your content. If you’re unclear in your own mind about what you want to say, it contributes to nervousness. Most often people are afraid of making a fool of themselves. Not knowing what to say is a big part of that. The solution is simple…know what to say! Prepare.
There are different ways to prepare; depending on your style some techniques will suit you better than others. What does prepared mean to you. For some just having a subject in mind is enough. For others they’ll want to consider every word.
If you prefer more preparation, it’s helpful to understand your learning style. Audio people will learn their content best by hearing it, doers by practicing delivering it, etc… Try different methods, find the combination that works best for you.
Be crystal clear about the “take aways” – the 1, 2 or 3 things that you’ll focus on making sure the audience walks away with. It helps you remember what to speak about. It helps the audience to understand and follow.When preparing a speech or presentation start there – what is it that the audience should know when they leave? Then figure out how you’re going to get those ideas across in a way the audience will connect with the most.
Focus on being of service. People often feel that to present on something they have to “know it all”. My dad used to remind us, “Don’t ever think you know it all, as soon as you do someone will come along who’ll show you that you don’t. And that’s painful.” (thanks dad) The point is that knowing your content and being an expert are two different things. Don’t confuse them! Strive to be of service, not to be the guru. It’s less stressful.
Know your content. Be clear about key “take aways”. Focus on being of service.
Prepare for What You DON’T Know
You might be thinking, Janene you’re crazy how can I prepare for what I don’t know?
Accept that you’ll probably be faced with a question you aren’t prepared for. Simply accepting that might be the case, will lessen your internal struggle with it. Then you can more easily focus on how to prepare for such situations.
Prepare responses to difficult questions. This is one way you can put your worry to good use. If you’re concerned someone will ask something you don’t know the answer to, then prepare ways to handle the situation. Knowing that you can handle such situations will help reduce your anxiety about such questions. Write down possible responses you can use in advance and keep them with you. Be authentice and tactful.
Practice impromptu speaking. Ask a friend to pose questions to you on a variety of topics and practice answering them. We do this in Toastmasters with something called Table Topics. Every day you are faced with questions you didn’t prepare for, but you didn’t even think about it. Somehow in this context the stakes feel higher and nerves kick in. Combat anxiety with a little preparation.
Accept you’ll be asked questions you don’t know the answer to. Prepare responses to difficult questions. Practice impromptu speaking.
Get the Space Working for You
Make the space your own. Do what you can to create the best space possible. Sometimes it surprises me how speakers don’t really pay attention to the space they’re speaking in. Calming nerves includes feeling comfortable in the room. There are many simple things you can do optimize it for yourself and the audience.
There’s a venue I once spoke in that wasn’t ideal. Often people in the back would talk and it made it hard to focus on the speakers. I’d seen others struggle with it and did’t want it to be me. When I arrived to speak there, I used earlier observations to adjust and asked the hosts to make some changes. For example, I asked that before they introduce me they bring everyone into the main room. This way I wouldn’t be fighting for with the chatter boxes in the back for people’s attention.
Don’t be “afraid” to ask for what you need. Often times the hosts aren’t speakers themselves and don’t know what can hinder and help. The more you speak the more you’ll know what works best. Use that experience to ask for adjustments to fit your needs. If you’re comfortable as the speaker, then the audience will be more comfortable as well. Everyone wins.
Make the space your own. Ask for what you need.
Focus on Your Audience
As the speaker your main focus is the audience. How egotistical can we get? We assume that because we are the speaker it’s all about us. Well guess what, it’s not it’s about them.
Figure out how to serve the audience best. Imagine you’re speaking at an after work networking event at a bar. You think, “Oh I’ll just use that slide deck from work.” Sure it’s easy but is it right?
Now think for a moment, you’re at a networking event after a long work day, is a 30-page, corporate presentation what’s going to thrill you? Is that what will entertain you the most? Of course not. As a speaker you should consider how to entertain them best. Think about what they want to hear/do rather than what you want to say.
Love your audience. There it is, I said it. If you focus on delivering the audience a great experience, on showing them a good time and on loving them, then the nerves dissipate. Why? Because when you’re nervous it’s because you’re focused on yourself. On what MIGHT happen to YOU. On how YOU MIGHT make a fool of YOURSELF. On how YOU MIGHT say the wrong thing. Do you see the pattern?
When your goal is to serve the audience, to get them to walk away with those key messages in their heads, then your life as the presenter becomes really simple.
Focus on the audience. Figure out how to serve them best. Love your audience.
Take the next step!
Even if right now you don’t feel that public speaking is fun or something you enjoy doing, that’s ok. If you want to get there you can start your journey right now.
Share with us in the comments section below. Use the following prompts or share on your own ideas.
- The tip I found the most useful and intriguing is…
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Until next time, enjoy speaking!