If you are not nervous before a presentation, then you are lying to yourself. Even veteran speakers get butterflies. “I don’t I don’t think I’ve ever met any really good speaker who doesn’t admit to having some semblance of a few butterflies before they go out,” says Eric Gilboord, one of Public Speaking Super Powers‘ Featured Speakers. “I believe that if you don’t have some anxiety, you’re either a liar or you’re fooling yourself. One or the other.”
Several of the Featured Speakers talked about harnessing that nervous energy to fuel your passion for your topic. But that can be easier said than done, especially when you are just starting out on your Public Speaking Superhero’s Journey. Here are some strategies to assist in overcoming nerves that can sabotage your talk.
Coping Strategy #1. Get rid of your nervous energy
Instead of fidgeting on the stage for all to see, burn off some of that energy with exercise. Exercise releases those feel-good endorphins that calm mood and outlook. If you don’t exercise, put on your favorite music and dance around the room. Featured Speaker C.C. Culver loves to do a dance before her presentations. “That will open me up more to the audience,” she says. “My muscles are a little looser, I’m a little happier and ready to go.”
Coping Strategy #2. Practice deep breathing
Your heart is racing. In order to calm it and your mind, learn to slow your breathing. Instead of short shallow breaths, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth in long draughts. This technique sends more oxygen to the brain, improving focus and mental recall. Also, since deep, long breaths are what you take when you are calm, you will be telling your body that you are calm, and it will follow suit.
Coping Strategy #3. Practice your presentation
Practice makes perfect but it also makes one prepared. Some of the fear of public speaking comes from the fear of forgetting what you want to say. When you know your information backward and forward, that fear begins to melt away.
Coping Strategy #4. Memorize your opening
How will you begin the presentation? This is the most important step. Committing it to memory can combat some of the fears you have and stop anxious thoughts. Also, since you are more likely to be the most nervous at the beginning, having that portion of your presentation nailed will give you time to acclimate to the stage and be more comfortable before your audience.
Coping Strategy #5. Visualize the outcome
Visualization may seem hokey, but it works. Research supports this. Scientists took two groups of basketball players. One group practiced with a ball making baskets. The other one practiced in their mind. The basketball players that practiced in their minds actually did a better job than the basketball players who practiced in reality. From start to finish, see yourself at the lectern giving your talk. Imagine what would make the audience engage with you. Correct any mistakes you notice in the visualization so you can avoid them in real time. “Most people who are successful in anything that they do, do visualize,” says Featured Speaker Laurel Clark. “By the same token, people who are not successful are also visualizing. However, what they do is visualize the worst. They imagine being embarrassed. They imagine being afraid. And so, whatever they picture in their mind is what happens.”
Coping Strategy #6. Build breaks into the presentation
This is particularly important when you have an extended talk. A break gives the audience time to process what has been said, as well as time for you to recoup your strength for the next segment. These breaks can be formal “bathroom” breaks, or simply longer pauses that give you time to take a sip or two of water or emphasize a point.
Coping Strategy #7. Speak to members of the audience
If this presentation is a part of a larger event, take the time beforehand to attend mixers where you can mingle with some of the attendees. Get to know them a bit to dispel any preconceived thoughts that are making you anxious. This also helps you foster allies in the audience who will, more than likely, be smiling at you while you’re on stage.
Jitters are not uncommon for any speaker. Calming them down is the difference between a so-so presentation and a great one.
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