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Speaking Nerves? — 7 Ways To Take The Pressure Off Yourself

Speaking Nerves? — 7 Ways To Take The Pressure Off Yourself

Got a big speech or presentation coming up? Why make it harder than it should be? Here are 7 proven ways to take the pressure off yourself.

Do you get jitters before or during an important presentation? That's not unusual, right? But what happens if you put extra pressure on yourself and do badly as a result?

And what if, maybe worst of all, you know the material backwards and forwards? In other words, your frazzled mind just doesn't allow you to access it when presenting or being asked a tough question.

Talk about a weight on your shoulders!

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Dr. Gary Genard's Fearless Speaking, named One of the 100 Best Confidence Books of All Time

If that's how you think before a high-stakes presentation, you need a way to take the pressure off yourself. Below are seven tried-and-true approaches to make that happy outcome a reality. (And here's a wonderfully effective 5-minute exercise to calm your nerves before speaking.)

Some of these approaches involve positive thinking. Others are hands-on practical in terms of what you can do before or during a speech. Make them all part of your speaking toolkit.

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7 Pressure-Reducing Valves for Public Speaking

Thinking Positively

#1 — Tell Yourself, "It's Not About Me." Of course, it isn't! But that realization can fly out the window when a lot hangs on your being good. Actually, not much is riding on a single presentation. And your looking good isn't even part of the equation. But let those two thoughts go for now. Just get your energy moving in the right direction: from you, to them. If you're self-absorbed, you will make it impossible to achieve your true goal of benefitting listeners.

#2 — Try To Meet Your Audiences Needs. This self-reminder is close to #1, above. The whole reason for a speech or presentation is to make the audience better off for having listened to you. Whatever the situation, it's always about doing that. And to do it well is hugely challenging. Like any good performance, it takes all your energy and focus. If you work that way, there will be no time or bandwidth left in your head to consider yourself! 

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#3 — Relish The Opportunity. I believe that not enough presenters put themselves in this frame of mind, though they should. You're here to talk about something that you and your audience share an interest in, right? People might even be as passionate about it as you are. "What an opportunity! Instead of having 500 different conversations with these audience members, I can give this ONE talk and impact everybody easily and efficiently!" (That's you talking.)

#4 — Give Your Gift. Did you ever wonder why it's called giving a speech? Why not 'staging a speech,' or 'torturing people with PowerPoint?' Every performance is a gift. We all know that speaking to a group means putting yourself on the line. (Here are 20 tips for connecting with an audience for lasting influence.) A true artist doesn't aim to bask in glory—he or she wants to do it again as soon as possible, trying to get closer to what they were attempting to accomplish. Give your gift to this audience as humbly and unselfconsciously as you can. 

Things To Do

#5 — Exercise Beforehand, And Move On Stage. Worrying about your performance creates tension. And when you're tense on stage, it shows. You need to put your physical self to work, allowing your muscles and the rest of your body to expend the excess energy. That doesn't mean running a marathon. Anything you can do to release the tension—even isometrics while you're sitting on stage waiting to speak—will help. Speaking of moving, try to do it on stage, for the same reason. One of your best opportunities may be to consistently turn down the offer of a lectern and go for a lapel mic instead.

#6 — Breathe. Sure, you're breathing, or you wouldn't be here reading this. But doing it properly, which means maximizing the diaphragmatic action or "belly breathing"? Speech anxiety (the "fight or flight response") brings with it shallow and rapid breathing. For one thing, your brain isn't getting the oxygen it needs for you to think on your feet! Here's another critical reason you need to breathe correctly while speaking: normal breathing activates the vagus nerve, which slows down the heart with each exhalation. Normal heart rate = a calmer speaker!

#7 — Use Your Audience. This is your go-to approach when you think everything is going south and you're on your way there too. It's the tool to use when someone asks you something you just don't know the answer to, and you don't want to admit that and (in your mind) look like a fool. The action is this: turn the question over to your audience's expertise. Say something like, "Well, that's an important point. Does anyone here have an idea on how that situation can be remedied? Has anyone found themselves in that situation?" You're not omniscient, and your listeners know that. Enlist the massive amount of knowledge that's sitting right in front of you!

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Gary Genard is an actor, author, and expert in public speaking and overcoming speaking fear. His company, The Genard Method offers live 1:1 Zoom executive coaching  and corporate group training worldwide. He was named for nine consecutive years as One of the World’s Top 30 Communication Professionals, and also named as One of America's Top 5 Speech CoachesHe is the author of the Amazon Best-Seller How to Give a Speech. His second book, Fearless Speakingwas named in 2019 as "One of the 100 Best Confidence Books of All Time." His handbook for presenting in videoconferences, Speaking Virtually offers strategies and tools for developing virtual presence in online meetings. His latest book is Speak for Leadership: An Executive Speech Coach's Secrets for Developing Leadership PresenceContact Gary here. 

Main photo credit: Bernhard Staerck on  

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