The secret to overcoming nervous speaking and presenting

If you feel nervous speaking in public or presenting at work you’ll know it can be very unpleasant.

Many of the symptoms of nervous speaking are very similar to other life experiences.

Approaching a member of the opposite sex to ask them out on a date, going for a job interview and taking your driving test can feel just like nervous speaking.

Shortness of breath, sweaty palms, dry mouth, queasy stomach and wobbly legs. These are just a handful of physical symptoms that can affect our performance.

If you feel nervous speaking or presenting at work or in public, you may worry for weeks or even months in advance.

We become what we think about and so does our presentation.

Your partner is late home from work. You knew they were going for a quick celebratory birthday drink with a colleague at work but now it’s getting really late.

The later it gets, the more worried and anxious you become because you fear the worst.

Perhaps they have been attacked on the way home from the station. You imagine they’ve had too much to drink and stepped out into the middle of the road. Your anxiety becomes heightened even further by your thoughts that perhaps the reason for their absence is an affair.

Your mind has made a quantum leap from a frenzied attack to a sordid affair,

The more you play those thoughts in your head, the more vivid you make the image and the more real the movie becomes.

Now you’re upset and its completely unfounded. The truth is, the only reason they are late is because they stopped for something to eat on the way home. Their battery was dead on their mobile phone so couldn’t call.

What movie do you play over and over again in your mind when it’s time to give an important presentation?

Could it be the movie that causes your mouth to turn dry, butterflies to dance the tango in your stomach.

Is it the movie that creates a feeling of panic and dread?

The racing heartbeat and feeling of nausea are likely to do with the perceived world you have created in your own mind.

It’s completely normal.

It’s likely that your thoughts are related to some of the following:

I’ll make a fool of myself

They won’t like me

I’ll forget my words

What if they ask me a question I dont know the answer to?

The feelings associated with nervous speaking don’t go away just because you command them to.

Imagine telling someone who has a terrifying fear of flying to pull themselves together at 40,000 feet,whilst being pelted around in their seat by turbulence. It’s futile!

Here are some highly effective ideas to help you to manage the symptoms of nervous speaking.

Practice, practice, and practice some more. I don’t mean memorize, memorize and memorize.

I mean, get to know your material; internalize your message. Rehearse in front of the mirror, friends, family or even next doors dog; just know your stuff.

Imagine turning up for your presentation to find that you left all of your notes on the train or that your laptop had stopped working.

The thought alone is the epitome of nervous speaking; I know.

In the unlikely event of that happening you should still be able to speak because you know your message. You may not have all the data but you can still give a good account of why you called your audience together in the first place.

Once you have absolute clarity of your message, spend some time practicing:

– The verbal expression of your message; how you sound.

– The non-verbal expression of your message; how you look.

Give yourself plenty of time to calm down and connect with yourself before you speak.

Building

Audience

Room

Support network

Environment — temperature, sounds, lighting, space

Facilities and resources

Allow yourself the time and space to improve the flow of oxygen to your brain to help you think more clearly.

Don’t be in a rush to speak.

The real secret to nervous speaking is learning to connect with yourself first and just be present in the room.

The fastest, simplest and most reliable path to presence is to take the time to breathe.

It’s impossible to hold more than one thought at a time.

If your thought is focused on your breath, you will instantly begin to feel more calm and relaxed.

Make it a daily practice long before you turn up to present.

There are a number of very helpful mobile applications that can help you. Two of my personal favourites are Calm and Headspace.

The following video explains exactly ‘Why Breathwork Matters’:

Stop focusing on yourself for a moment and think about your audience.

Think about what they need and how you can help them instead.

Don’t focus on whether your audience can hear you stuttering or can see the red blotches on your neck.

– How much do they already know and care about this topic?

– What else do they want and need to know?

– Why should they care about what you have to say?

– How will what you have to say make their lives better, easier, happier or positively different in some way?

– How can you anticipate and address any resistance they may have?

– What do they have to gain by listening to you?

– What questions will they have for you and how can I answer them?

If you have a gift for telling stories then use it.

Perhaps storytelling isn’t your strength, it may be:

– Making eye contact

– Making people laugh

– The strength of your voice

– Your passion

– Your empathy

– Interacting with the audience

Play to your strengths instead of focusing too much on your weaknesses.

Imagine confidence on a scale of one to ten, with one representing the lowest level of confidence and ten the highest.

Practice holding a high number of your choosing in your mind.

Close your eyes, take a couple of deep breaths and then ask yourself what that number/level of confidence looks, sounds and feels like in your personal world.

Don’t think about how it looks in or is percieved by others; think about what it means to you personally.

Once you have an image in your mind and feeling in your body practice being that number/ level of confidence over and over again.

Read a few passages from your favourit book or even the newspaper; owning that level of confidence.

In other words, how would you stand, look, speak and move.

Watch the brilliant Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy, ‘Your body language may shape who you are’.

Before you utter a word, take a moment to stand, pause, take a breath and choose a number, a level of confidence that you would like to project.

Then step into that number and be that number.

Even though we are not actors we all subconsciously know how to be an eight on a scale of confidence.

We just have to hold that number and image in our mind as a level of confidence.

This isn’t about acting, it’s about ‘being’.

Before you present, picture yourself in your mind presenting as you really want to.

Imagine yourself standing there, visualise:

– Yourself speaking fluently and easily

– Your audience smiling and nodding in agreement

– Yourself connecting with the audience and enjoying yourself

– Yourself standing tall, proud and strong as you speak

– Your words flowing naturally and easily

– Your audience applauding when you finish speaking

– Yourself lying on the beach, the warm sun on your skin and the sound of the ocean

– Doing something you love, a hobbie, pastime or passion

– That incredible moment you passed your driving test or were offered your first job

– That feeling of relief, joy and success after your first kiss

Change your thoughts and you’ll change your emotional state.

Remember, you probably know more about your subject than anyone in your audience, so take comfort in that.

If you don’t, then remember you have been asked to present for a good reason. They could just have easily asked someone else but they chose you.

One of the reasons we can feel excessivley nervous speaking is because we have allowed those limiting or negative beliefs to thrive for years without noticing, challenging and reframing them.

– Write down your limiting or negative beliefs

– Instead of looking for evidence as to why you believe them to be true, look for evidence why they are not true

– Write down what you would need to believe to help you to feel less nervous speaking

– Look for evidence elsewhere in life for success, acheivement and confidence; write it down

– Write down a brand new set of beliefs that are far more empowering and helpful

– Practice focusing on those new, positive beliefs

Watch out for negative self- talk.

Replace it with positive and kind self-talk.

Negative self-talk Positive self-talk
I don’t know how to present This is an opportunity to learn something new

Presenting and public speaking is so hard I’ll get some presention training

I’m not a confident presenter Confidence comes with practice

I don’t have time to prepare I will make time to prepare, it’s important

There’s no way I’ll be good at this I will do everything I can to make it work

I’m an introvert, not a public speaker Many great speakers are introverts; they care

No one will listen to me I’m speaking to help my audience

What if I freeze and forget my words I will pause, breathe, smile and carry on

What if they ask me a question I can’t answer I will respond honestly and calmly

Remember how much you know and care and all that you have achieved in the past.

Don’t beat yourself up in your mind.

Be kind and gentle with yourself, use words of encouragement.

Model yourself on excellence.

– Watch TED talks (https://www.ted.com/) and https://www.youtube.com/ videos of some of your favourite presenters.

– Take on board what you admire the most and adapt what you like to suit your personality and style in a way that will work for you.

– Spend time with colleagues you admire as presenters. Watch them, ask the questions, get some feedback.

– Attend workshops, conferencing and seminars in person and online -meet as many presenters as you can

Try not to stand as though your feet are nailed to the floor.

Movement represents energy and visual stimulation.

Use your energy and own the platform.

Stand tall and straight with your feet shoulders or hip width apart; feel your feet connected to the ground you are standing on.

Move around with purpose, not just for the sake of it.

Let your hands speak.

Let your body speak.

Don’t forget to let your face speak.

If you have a flip chart, be sure to move it to a position that suits you.

If there is a screen then touch the screen.

Move the laptop, tables or chairs wherever you want them to; show them it’s all yours.

Dress for confidence. If you look good it’s highly likely you will feel good too.

Smiling makes you look more attractive.

It’s contagious, will make you feel good and make other people feel good too.

“All the great speakers were bad speakers at first.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

– Book yourself onto a powerful public speaking course.

– Invest in some really good one to one public speaking coaching.

– Get yourself some excellent presentation training

Image: Courtesy of Canva.com

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Author, speaker, trainer, presenter - former corporate executive passionate about personal leadership, people and results.

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Maurice DeCastro

Author, speaker, trainer, presenter - former corporate executive passionate about personal leadership, people and results.