At the end of one of my speaking seminars, a star participant asked, “OK, tell us again how YOU keep from being nervous when YOU speak.” I understood the question; I often wondered the same when I watched professional speakers…oh, and also when it was my kids’ turn to be goalie in AYSO soccer. I still have no idea how our Chicago Blackhawks goalie handles the stress of his job night after night or how his mother can watch.
But, back to the question: I do know speaking. There are definitely things you can do to keep from being a nervous wreck when you have to present to a group. Here are my best tips, which I try very hard to follow every time.
Fear #1 “I don’t have time to do this well!”
Get started right away.
I mean NOW.
The sooner you write something down the less stress you’ll feel. You can go back and change the whole thing later. It doesn’t have to be a formal speaking outline. Just some key bullet points will do. It will become your outline or template later.
Fear #2 “ I’m all alone in this.”
Get someone else involved.
Anyone will do.
It’s best to talk to a trusted coworker or stakeholder, but simply running it by your best friend or significant other is OK too. Conduct a phone interview, text, ask for time for coffee, have an email conversation. My longtime coauthor, Kevin, is often my first point of brainstorming.
Fear #3 “I’m an imposter; I don’t know enough about this!”
Yes, you do.
Someone trusts that you know more than most. That’s why you’ve been asked to speak.
Review examples that are unique to you. This is information that nobody else can say quite the same way. Research only the most current references online to add zest. Don’t let the Internet overwhelm you. Get a sense of what’s new and if your presentation aligns or argues that. Either agreement or argument is OK as long as you support it in your unique way.
Fear #4 “I will forget something.”
Most speakers do.
It’s OK to have notes.
Notes are a speaker’s right. Aristotle used notes. Churchill used notes. Obama has a teleprompter. Just don’t write them out word for word (unless you have a teleprompter) or your mind and your mouth will get out of sync.
Fear #5 “ My (shaky hands, red neck, cotton mouth, stutter) will show.”
You feel it more.
Audiences forgive these things.
Know your opening four minutes COLD.
Most of the time signs of discomfort less affect the audience than you may believe. And they are fairly ready to forgive them if your presentation is helpful and practiced. Also these behaviors tend to go away after the first moments. That’s why you should practice your opening over and over.