Want to persuade, influence, and inspire listeners? Put yourself in the right frame of mind! Here are 6 ways to reduce your nerves for public speaking.
You've heard of a "self-fulfilling prophecy," haven't you? That's when you think about something with enough positive vibes that you help make that outcome a reality.
Ideally, that's the frame of mind we should all be in as we prepare for a speech, presentation, or contribution to a virtual meeting. The higher-profile the talk, of course, the more we need this self-boost.
But what happens if you're someone who suffers from excessive nervousness over public speaking? If you're lucky, your nerves will announce themselves as you're about to go on. If you're not, they can start working days, weeks, or even months before you're due to speak. That's called anticipatory anxiety, and it can tip you over into true fear of public speaking.
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I'm assuming you're not in that latter category, and that you experience mild-to-medium nervousness when preparing to speak. (If you need to overcome true speech anxiety, take a look here and download a free chapter of my book Fearless Speaking.)
Are You a Self-Conscious Presenter?
Nervousness due to public speaking stems from the fact that it's a form of social anxiety. That's "social" as in audience, of course. Given that there's always an audience if it's "public" speaking, It's quite common for you to be self-conscious while presenting.
And no wonder! Facing audiences large or small armed only with one's professional demeanor, some data, and a message (which may not always be as clear as we'd like it to be) represents a high level of exposure. And even though, deep down, you realize that public speaking isn't dangerous, it still may feel that way.
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That's when the awareness of your own vulnerability can crowd out every other consideration—including what you'd like to achieve with listeners. Though you want to feel charged up and ready to rumble, what you really feel is nervous.
But take heart! As I said above, nervousness isn't full-blown anxiety. Assuming a "Tips and Tricks" solution will help, here are six ways to handle jitters, butterflies, and quivers.
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Six Ways to Reduce Your Nerves for Public Speaking
1. Acquire speaking experience. We always fear the unknown. The more frequently you speak, the more familiar an activity it will become for you. If at first it seems like a necessary way to communicate with groups of people, eventually it will feel like the natural way to do so. If you don't speak regularly at work, consider Toastmasters, or form a speaking club at your company.
2. Prepare! Prepare! Prepare! There is absolutely nothing like feeling prepared to give you confidence ahead of a presentation. (Of course, the reverse is also true.) When it comes time to rehearse, go through your talk enough times that your main points come to you readily, but not so many times that you become mechanical. Practice in the real setting with the actual equipment you'll be using whenever possible.
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3. Think positively. (I originally wrote that as "Don't think negatively," but for some reason I changed it.) Listen, you're far and away the person best equipped to beat up on yourself. But why do that? Spend your preparation and "pondering" time prior to a presentation thinking positively. That way, you'll help yourself create that self-fulfilling prophecy of success.
4. Remember that most nervousness is not visible. If there's any activity that is separated into a "subjective" versus "objective" experience, it's public speaking. Yes, you are inside the nervous speaker and privy to everything that's going on in there. But your audience isn't. They are simply interested in what you have to say to them. Another reason they're not focused on your nervousness is because they probably don't see it!
5. Be at your best physically and mentally. In the turmoil of nervousness before a speech, this aspect of optimal performance can get lost in the noise. Get enough rest. And give yourself quiet time if you need it (i.e., if you're an introvert), or mix-and-mingle time to get your juices flowing (if you're an extrovert). In other words, be your own best friend.
6. Don't expect prefection! * Your audience expects you to be good, not perfect. If you try at all times to be absolutely flawless, you'll just undermine your own confidence. Basically, you need to be "good enough" to achieve your objective, and that's enough.
* Oops! Guess I'm not prefect!
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Gary Genard is an actor, author, and expert in public speaking training and overcoming speaking fear. His company, Boston-based The Genard Method offers live 1:1 Zoom executive coaching worldwide. In 2020 for the seventh consecutive year, Gary has been ranked by Global Gurus as One of The World's Top 30 Communication Professionals. He is the author of How to Give a Speech. His second book, Fearless Speaking, was recently named as "One of the 100 Best Confidence Books of All Time." Contact Gary here.