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Calming Public Speaking Nerves

woman overcoming fear of public speaking

A large number of people find public speaking terrifying - it is reported that over 70% of people in the US have a fear of public speaking.1  As a result, many prefer to avoid it if all possible. However, it’s very likely that at some time in your career and life you will be asked to make a presentation.

Being a little nervous, means you want to do well. But being overly nervous or scared is a problem. Here’s a few tips to follow to help you overcome your nervousness or fear to give informative and memorable presentations.

Minimize Anxiety Before the Presentation

There are several strategies you can employ to calm your nerves before your presentation. The more prepared you are the less anxiety you will have.

Know the room, test equipment

Arrive early to the place where you will be giving your presentation. Test all of the equipment: microphone, computer, projector, and lighting. Do a dry run by walking around the speaking space. Go to the back of the room and make sure your visual aids are readable. Don’t hesitate to ask for assistance with the setup, your visual aids, lighting, etc. Bring a water bottle or ask for a glass and/or pitcher of water.

Get a handle on the logistics

Find out from your contact person as many logistics as possible. Examples include: how many people will attend, expected speaking format, how much time you have, if a Q and A segment is expected, identify what equipment will be provided and what you need to bring, clarify if you are the only speaker or if there will be others before and after you. This will allow you to focus on your presentation and not worry about the setup details.

Know your audience

Find out who is likely to attend the presentation and any relevant information like their ages, interests, and occupations. If an informal gathering is planned before, attend it to meet the audience and engage in light conversation. You’ll feel more comfortable speaking to a group of people you know than to a group of total strangers.

Know your material

The less familiar or comfortable you are with your material, the more nervous you will be, and it will show. Give yourself plenty of time to practice before the presentation. Practicing the night before will help settle you and calm your nerves. Make sure to get a good night’s sleep so you are refreshed, and you will make less mistakes.

Dress for confidence

Wear a favorite outfit that makes you feel confident and comfortable. However, make sure it is appropriate for the situation. The outfit shouldn’t be too casual or too flashy. You want people to focus on your message not your outfit.

Relax

Before the presentation, try to find a quiet place. Take some deep breaths, stretch to ease your tension, and recite a positive mantra or quote to clear your thoughts.

Visualize yourself making the presentation

When you visualize yourself as successful, you will be successful. In your mind, imagine yourself being articulate and giving the presentation with confident. Evoke the feelings of having done a good job and the audience’s positive reaction. Do this as far in advance of the actual presentation as possible. The longer you do this, the more prepared you will feel.

Turn anxiety into positive energy

Public speaking often triggers dread that something awful, terrible, or publicly humiliating will happen. Ask yourself: ‘What’s the worst thing that could happen?’ Passing out from nervous exhaustion? Forgetting everything you were going to say? Tripping and falling on stage? While embarrassing, it is not the end of the world. Put everything in perspective. Concentrate on channeling your nervousness into positive energy and enthusiasm to give a vibrant presentation.

Realize the audience wants you to succeed

If you are scared of public speaking, chances are many people in the audience are to. They feel the dread of possible embarrassment and failure every time someone presents in public. They want you to be interesting, stimulating, informative, and entertaining. However, they also admire your courage, will be on your side, and want you to succeed. Smile and your audience will smile back.

Dissipate Fear During the Presentation

Use good posture

Stand straight, balance your weight on both feet, and hold your stomach in--it'll improve your posture and give you confidence. Avoid nervous body movements, like fidgeting, touching your face, or exaggerated gestures. It's okay to move around a little bit during your presentation. It will ease your tension and keep your audience alert.

Use good eye contact

Eye contact with your audience is a powerful tool to connect with them and increases your credibility as a speaker. Try to include everyone in the audience equally when you look out over the crowd. However, make it as natural as possible and not robotic or formulaic.

Speak clearly

A good speaking voice is essential for delivering an effective speech. Your voice should be pleasant, natural and dynamic. Speak directly into the microphone. If you don’t have a microphone, pay special attention that you project enough for everyone in the room to hear you. Use pauses when appropriate for effect, laughter, or applause. Sometimes a pause can help reinforce a point or make a transition to another point.

Don't mention that you’re nervous

Don’t apologize or call the audience's attention to the fact that you are nervous. They may not even notice, and you certainly don’t want to accentuate it.

Concentrate on your message

Focus your attention outwardly toward your message and your audience. Work on making your message understandable. It's fine to have notes to speak from--but don't let your notes be a distraction. And, don’t read from a script. This will create disconnection with the audience and affect your tone.

Don’t get distract if people are whispering, fidgeting, or sleeping. You don’t know their situation and it most likely has nothing to do with you. Concentrate on the things you can control, like your voice, your message, and your energy.

Practice, Practice, Practice is Key to Eliminating Fear

Experience builds confidence, which is the key to effective speaking. And the only way to achieve this is to put yourself in the spotlight, over and over and over again. Regardless how fearful you are, every speaking opportunity will help you become more confident and comfortable. Join a group like Toastmasters or present at a local school. Remember to start small and work your way up to bigger audiences and events. Over time you’ll develop a trust in your ability to speak successfully.

References

  1. Montopoli, John. “Public Speaking Anxiety and Fear of Brain Freezes.” National Social Anxiety Center (blog), February 20, 2017. https://nationalsocialanxietycenter.com/2017/02/20/public-speaking-and-fear-of-brain-freezes/.

Jennifer

Jennifer has 15+ years of public speaking experience - ranging from groups of 5 to 5000. She draws from her experience as an instructor, academic, and librarian to help others with their presentation skills. When not presenting she loves creating and designing online courses, video, images, slide decks, handouts, conference posters, and infographics.

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