Nine awesome techniques for managing presentation and public speaking nerves

The most asked question I get is “how can I overcome my fear of public speaking”. In this post I want to share my top tips for managing your anxiety and encourage you to add yours.

1) Breathe!
I know this one sounds like a no brainer, but when we are nervous, our breathing gets shallow and rapid and we deprive ourselves of vital oxygen. Deliberately talking two or three slow deep breaths is a great way to relax. With each in breath imagine breathing in pure, cleansing light. With each out breath, imagine breathing out any negativity, self doubt and tension.

2) Consciously visualise success:
When we are nervous or anxious our minds have a tendency to dwell on past failures or imagine how things could go wrong in the future. In effect we mentally rehearse failure. This isn’t an effective strategy for preparing ourselves to give a great speech.

Excellent presenters do the opposite. They deliberately either remember past times when they have been on top of their game or they imagine their forthcoming presentation going well. The more they can imagine seeing, hearing and feeling success in their minds eye, the more effective a speaker they tend to be in reality

3) Stand as if you feel confident:
The previous tip focused on taking control of our thinking. This one focuses on our physiology. If you want to feel confident project that confidence to others you have to “act as if” you were confident.

Standing upright with your feet hip width apart and your toes pointed very slightly out creates a posture where your head is naturally up and your shoulders are relaxed and back. If you deliberately adopt this type of posture even though you are feeling nervous inside, your audience will believe you to be confident and you will start to feel more confident yourself.

4) Focus on your audience:
This one may sound a little counter intuitive but trust me, it really works. Aim to make and hold good eye contact with your audience.  Not only will this make them feel more engaged but it will also provide you with valuable feedback on how well your presentation strategy is working. Since your brain can only really focus on one thing at a time, concentrating on our audience will stop you focusing on your nerves and your anxiety will automatically diminish.

5) Remember a past success:
When first asked to give a presentation or speech you may doubt your own abilities or that you have anything worthwhile to say. In order to get yourself into a better “state” take a few minutes to go back through your memories and recall times in your life where you have been successful and confident. The more vividly you can make these recollections the more confident you will feel.

It may have been last week or a few years ago. It may have been at work or on holiday or playing sport. Just allow a memory pop up and then go back into it and remember how it felt to be successfully and confident. What were you doing. What sounds were you hearing then? Who was with you? What were you saying to yourself. By accessing a memory of a positive achievement from your past you can bring those resources back to you right now in the present.

6) Prepare:
There is an old saying that goes “failing to plan is planning to fail”. The more important your presentation is the more sensible it is to plan well in advance. Don’t try and do it all in one go, and don’t try and do it all at the last minute. If you feel nervous about our presentations you may find yourself procrastinating over the preparation and this is a sure fire way to increase your stress levels,

Make the time to do it a little bit at a time. Plan in 30minutes a day for a couple of weeks to develop your content and structure and then to write and rehearse it. If you don’t put it in your diary it will never happen so a little bit of self discipline is needed.

7) Rehearse rehearse, rehearse:
Writing a speech and delivering it are two very different things.   Allow some time to read your speech out loud.

I tend to print my first draft then pace around my office, reading it out loud to an imaginary audience. Inevitably I will change the wording during this process as I notice that some phrases just don’t flow naturally or sound right when I spoken.

Once I have the script nailed down I will then practice giving the speech without referring to my script. I am not trying to memorise it word for word, but I am trying to groove in the flow of ideas and key messages so that I can focus on my audience rather than on my notes. The more I rehearse, the more confident I become.

8) Step “into” a role model:
If you are an inexperienced or nervous speaker you may like to try this tactic on for size. Start by thinking about someone whom you believe to be a confident and effective presenter.

They could be a teacher, colleague, parent, friend or even a movie star.
Now imagine that you could step into their body and “be them” as they give the speech you have prepared. Look out at the audience through their eyes, feeling the confidence that say seem to naturally posses. Hear yourself delivering your words as confidently and as fluently as they would.

9) Join your local Toastmasters club:
There is no substitute for practice but finding a safe and supportive place to do this can be a real challenge. That’s where Toastmasters clubs come in.

Despite the name, Toastmasters International is nothing to do with red coats and weddings. It is a worldwide network of public speaking clubs providing a safe place to practice and gain feedback. I am a member of Solent Speakers based in in the UK and Despite being an experienced speaker, I learn something new every time I go.

Google “Toastmasters clubs” in your local area and visit. In my experience you’ll be hard pressed to find a friendlier and more supportive learning environment anywhere on the planet.

So what do you think? – what techniques have you found to help you or your colleagues. Share your comments with the thousands of people who read this blog and help them learn from your experiences.

1 Comment

  1. Fear of Public Speaking on 31/07/2014 at 19:01

    Gavin some really good content. People often forget to to breath properly and then find themselves trying to catch their breath which makes them more nervous.

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