NOTE: I celebrated my birthday over the last few days so I took the weekend off from producing a video for this week. We’ll return to the weekly video on Monday, Sept. 5, 2011.
One of the most frequent questions I’ve been asked … after “How do I deal with nerves/fear?” … is “Can’t they tell I’m nervous?” And, frankly, the answer really is “It depends.”
The answer could be yes if you display any of these tell-tales signs of nervous energy:
- Speaking too fast
- Your hands are shaking
- You don’t look in the audience’s direction at all
- You have too many filler words
That said, you can do all these things and still have no one notice that you’re nervous!
(Want an example? Check out the video of my “Carried Away by Pygmies” speech. I was totally nervous, but most people couldn’t tell.)
Remember, your audience, in general, is rooting for you and will pay more attention to your content and overall delivery than any particular nervous signal. That means there are things you can do to make your nervous signals less obvious and help your audience focus on your message, rather than your nervous ticks.
Speaking Too Fast
Make a concerted effort to moderate the speed of your delivery. You can speak quickly some of the time, but should change pace at appropriate moments.
Breath. Relax. Focus on speaking at a moderate pace.
If you’ve practiced your presentation, doing this is much easier.
O.K. This is an automatic response that you can’t really control. In fact, I’ve been known to blush without even realizing that I’m doing it. So, if you’re like me, just ignore it. Don’t bring attention to your blushing. And, as you get more comfortable in front of the room, you’ll find that you’ll blush much less often.
Your Hands Are Shaking
Again, this gets less and less likely the more comfortable you are at giving presentations. So, if this is an issue for you, do things with your hands that make the shaking less obvious.
- Don’t hold your hands out in front of you and draw attention to them.
- Move your hands in a more fluid motion so that the shaking is less obvious.
- Use gestures that draw attention to your face, a prop or some other location than your hands.
But whatever you do, don’t try to hide your hands by putting them in your pockets!
You Don’t Look in the Audience’s Direction At All
You look at your notes.
You look at the floor.
You look at the ceiling.
You just can’t bring yourself to look in the direction of your audience.
This is not only a tell-tale sign of nervousness, it is also so distracting for your audience they will find it difficult to pay attention to your message.
I’ve watched speeches where the presenter turned his back to the audience the whole time, never looked up from his notes, and even talked to the floor. I remember the presentations … just not what was said during them.
Make an effort to look in your audience’s direction. If you are not comfortable looking in the direction of their eyes, try looking at their foreheads or noses. Scan across the audience so you don’t fixate on one person and make that person uncomfortable. I heard one person give the advice that if you’re giving a presentation to a dinner-style audience, then you can at least look at the centerpieces! From the stage, no one will truly know.
You Have Too Many Filler Words
These are all words that are used as fillers … sounds to take up space between the words we really want to be saying.
Sometimes we say them because we are uncomfortable with silence. Sometimes because we’re in the habit of using them as false transitions. And sometimes we think they help us think of what to say next.
Make a concerted effort to stop using them.
You don’t need to fill every moment of your presentation with sound. Silence can be your friend.
And the less ums, ahs and you knows you use, the more together and professional you’ll sound.