For people who are not gifted with natural eloquence, public speaking can be a daunting experience. Darlene Price, president of the award-winning coaching company, Well Said Inc., summed it up well when she said, “Though statistics vary on the exact percentages, it’s safe to say most of us get nervous before a public speaking engagement. As a speaker facing an audience, we often fear failure, criticism, judgment, embarrassment, comparison, or rejection.”
And indeed, all this fear, all this negative reaction, is only natural. Even the most experienced speakers tremble before delivering their opening salvo. This is why you should go against the general notion of tackling fear for the purpose of eradicating it. Instead, what you should do is conquer it by controlling it to your own advantage. Managing your fear is the only way to connect with your audience.
After all, spectators don’t really see how you feel. They only see how you carry yourself onstage. So, it’s okay to be afraid, as long as you don’t show it to anyone. When all’s said and done, a presentation is not really about what you say but how you say it.
The Dramatic Pull of Positive Visualization
To turn your jitters into positive energy, you should pump yourself up before a presentation. Boost your enthusiasm by imagining a positive outcome to the speaking engagement. Mentally walk yourself through your speech, and picture yourself acting with confidence, flair, and poise. You’re a presentation guru, and the audience enjoy watching and listening to you.
Positive visualization is healthy and effective. The more you envision something in a good way, the better it will play out in reality. Just take in mind the American industrialist Henry Ford’s famous quote, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”
Above all else, smile. Smiling can help calm your nerves and lower your anxiety. It increases your body’s supply of endorphins, the chemicals responsible for lowering stress levels. When you smile, you exude confidence, which your audience will interpret as a sign of enthusiasm towards your speech.
How Familiarity Breeds Confidence
Don’t take chances with your presentation by delivering it once and for all. You have to practice it multiple times before the actual event. Rehearse your lines in various positions until you grow comfortable with them. If necessary, record your presentation and watch it afterwards. This will help you see which bad habits to grow out of.
Know your presentation by heart, but don’t memorize it word by word—unless, of course, you’ll be delivering your presentation at TED. Just the opening and closing lines of your talk are enough. Learn your first and last statements so they’ll come to you naturally.
Practicing will help you gain a certain amount of control over the situation. The more certain you are about your talk, the less nervous you’ll be about it. By rehearsing your presentation beforehand, you can focus your nervous energy on something more productive.
What Your Surroundings Will Teach You
Give yourself ample time to be familiar with the venue. Arrive at least a day early so you can thoroughly assess the setup. Check if there are any elements in the surroundings that may distract you from your presentation. Test the equipment you’re going to use to minimize the possibility of technical difficulties arising later on. Practice delivering your talk in the venue, too, to familiarize yourself even more with the entire affair.
If your speech is part of a series, you should listen to other talks. Do it as a courtesy to your fellow speakers, and also to learn more about the spectators. By attending the other presentations, you’ll be able to gauge the general mood of the audience. You can assess whether they’ll appreciate humor or straight facts. This will help you tailor your presentation to their needs and preferences.
On the day of your speech, make sure to attend the meet-and-greet ceremony. Speaking with representatives from the audience will help you understand them more genuinely. As public speaking coach Ian Cunliffe advised, “Arrive early and talk to a few individual audience members about their needs. That way, you’ll have insider information and friendly faces that you can focus on when you take the stage.” Darlene Price held the same opinion. She said, “Conversation helps relax your nerves, creates a bond with your audience, and sets the stage for personable speaking versus public speaking.”
Power Stance and Other Endorphin Boosters
Warm yourself up before taking the floor. To calm your nerves, practice deep breathing, a method that will flood your brain with oxygen. Your muscles will relax and you’ll regain composure. Moving around and assuming a power stance will also help you create a lasting sense of confidence.
Before stepping into the platform, make sure you are properly hydrated. Dry mouth can sometimes be a cause of anxiety. Drink plenty of water before going onstage, and keep a bottle of liquid within arm’s reach in case your mouth dries up in the middle of your talk. Finally, make sure to take a bathroom break before your performance.
The Mantra You Should Adopt
Repeat some words of encouragement before heading to the spotlight. Your mantra should be: “I’m the expert in the room. The audience trust and believe in me, and they want me to succeed. I will go out there and deliver with confidence and conviction.”
As body language expert Mark Bowden said, presentations are not really about the facts and the data. “When we go live in front of an audience, it’s about the event, the personality, the relationship, and trust.” Kill it with your confidence. Bring home the gold with your poise and enthusiasm.
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Kim, Larry. “15 Ways to Calm Your Nerves Before a Big Presentation.” Inc. October 20, 2014. www.inc.com/larry-kim/15-power-up-tips-to-make-you-a-better-presenter.html
Kleiman, Karen. “Try Some Smile Therapy.” Psychology Today. August 1, 2012. www.psychologytoday.com/blog/isnt-what-i-expected/201207/try-some-smile-therapy
Smith, Jacquelyn. “11 Tips for Calming Your Nerves Before a Big Presentation.” Business Insider. June 23, 2014. www.businessinsider.com/tips-for-calming-nerves-before-a-speech-2014-6
“Feeling Anxiety is Normal.” Boundless. n.d. www.boundless.com/communications/textbooks/boundless-communications-textbook/building-confidence-to-speak-4/understanding-anxiety-27/feeling-anxiety-is-normal-127-10639
“Managing Presentation Nerves: Coping with the Fear Within.” Mind Tools. n.d. www.mindtools.com/pages/article/PresentationNerves.htm
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