Over the last month, I’ve had the chance to speak to several groups on the topic of public speaking. Before two of the sessions, the host asked the attendees to submit questions for me to answer during my time with them. While I received many great questions, the most common one was a variation of, “What can I do about being nervous before and during my speech?”
Let me share with you three of the techniques I suggested.
First, remember that nervousness is something that naturally happens when we get ready to speak. I actually think that being nervous is positive rather than negative. Early in my speaking career, I considered nervousness negatively, but now I recognize that if I’m not nervous then I’m probably overconfident. I discovered that the more I thought about being nervous, the more nervous I became. But now nervousness signals to me that I should be thinking about my message and the audience. My first suggestion is to focus on your message and not your nervousness before your speech.
The second technique that helps with my nervousness happens long before I show up to speak. It is to memorize (yes, I said memorize) the first two or three lines of my presentation. Now I’m not suggesting that anyone memorize a whole speech, but having the first few lines committed to memory allows me to be ready the moment I begin talking. Even if something unexpected occurs before or during the opening, I know that those first three lines come out of my mouth without much difficulty which helps ease my initial nervousness. The first 30-60 seconds of any speech are the most difficult since the audience and I don’t know each other and being confident about the first lines allow me to be at my best because of my memorization. My second suggestion is to memorize your first three opening lines.
My third tip for handling nervousness is to do some kind of physical movement before the presentation. This increases your energy and reduces the tension that you feel right before going on to speak. If I’m off stage in an area where no one can see me, I jump up and down three or four times. If I’m in the room where everyone can see me, I vary my walk or shake my arms as I go to the front. Changing my normal movements before beginning my speech helps me relieve some of the physical tension I feel before speaking. The third suggestion is to do some kind of out-of-the-ordinary physical movement.
I hope these three tips help you before you give your next presentation. Remember to focus on your message and not your nerves. Memorize your opening. Do some physical movement before starting your speech. All of these will help reduce your nervousness and enable you to deliver the message your audience is waiting to hear.