Most speakers, from beginners to veterans, readily admit to feeling nervous before and/or during a speech or presentation. This response may feel uncomfortable as though the brain has stopped working; however, it's completely natural and even necessary. In fact, many professional speakers don't want to lose the butterflies--they aim to leverage them. They actually value this adrenalin surge because it fuels the body with the energy and enthusiasm necessary for a great performance. Here are ten tips to help you manage and optimize public speaking anxiety. They're organized in the acronym STAGE MIGHT:
Smile. Smiling actually relaxes the body--the physiological effect of smiling emits chemicals in the brain that calms the nerves and promotes a sense of well-being. Plus a smile conveys confidence and self-assurance. It shows your audience that you're happy to see them and enthusiastic about the message.
Talk positively to yourself and visualize your success. Let's learn from the experts in sports psychology. They've proven that an athlete's positive self-talk and ability to vividly visualize his or her success consistently create a higher win rate. Before your next presentation, give yourself a pep talk: "I am a dynamic speaker." "I am enthusiastic and engaging." "I am prepared and confident." Visualize your confident dynamic delivery, and see your supportive audience responding positively. It really works!
Acknowledge the three audience truths:
1. They believe you're the expert. The audience perceives you as a recognized authority simply because you're the person speaking. Plus, you know more about the topic than they do.
2. They want you to succeed. Audiences are rooting for you. They want and expect you to add value--to be interesting, engaging, and informative otherwise the presentation is a waste of their time.
3. They don't know what you're going to say. If you make an error, don't announce it or apologize, just keep going. The audience will never know.
Greet and meet the audience before you speak. Shake hands and talk with as many people as possible ahead of time. This shows the audience you're approachable and personable. Plus it relaxes you and transforms 'public' speaking into 'personal' speaking.
Exercise lightly and breathe deeply before you speak. In a private setting beforehand, do some light stretching, a few knee-bends, or take a brisk walk. Plus take a few deep slow breaths. Inhale through the nose on a slow count of three; and exhale through the mouth on a slow count of three. This rids the body of excess energy and floods the brain with oxygen.
Memorize the first minute of your presentation. Knowing the first few sentences that will come out of your mouth gives you confidence and calms your nerves. It also enables you to look directly into the eyes of your audience when you begin speaking which optimizes the first impression.
Interact with your audience immediately. Within the first two minutes, involve the audience. For example, ask a thought-provoking question; conduct a survey by show of hands; generate responses and make a list; use a prop; ask them to imagine a scenario; tell a compelling story. By immediately engaging your listeners, you focus the attention and interest where it belongs--on the audience. This takes the spotlight off of you which relieves some pressure. By interacting, you're also doing something very natural and comfortable: engaging conversationally with human beings, rather than the feared "public speaking."
Give, give, give. Often I'll ask speakers in my presentation workshops if they get overwhelmingly nervous when giving a birthday gift to a loved one. The answer is almost always "no," rather they feel anticipation, excitement, and joy. They look forward to it and eagerly await the unwrapping. As a speaker, think about your presentation as a gift to the audience; a package full of valuable information, helpful ideas, and meaningful content. The mental attitude of giving empowers you and frees you to focus on helping others.
Hold a dress rehearsal. Remember the Six Ps: Proper Preparation and Practice Prevent Poor Performance. There's no better way to ensure a winning presentation or speech than to walk through it, say it aloud, practice your body movement, warm up your voice, click through your slides, and know your content inside and out. Ideally, record the rehearsal and review your performance. The more you practice, the better you'll be.
Trust yourself. You have everything you need to succeed. Trust yourself to be outstanding and you will live up to your expectations. As Henry Ford once said, "Whether you think you can or think you can't--you are right."