When you're getting ready to give a speech, do you indulge in self-talk like, "Will I say it right? Will I forget something important? Will I make a mistake? Will they get bored and stop listening? Will they think I'm a terrible speaker?" Along with these questions come those irritating and hard to control pre-speech nerves: the butterflies in your stomach, nausea, the shivers and shakes, pounding heartbeats, can't catch your breath, feel a bit lightheaded, and trouble focusing on what you want to say. There are probably others unique to you that you're quite sure no one else experiences.
The good news is you're not alone. Everyone, including me, experiences a bit of pre-speech anxiety. It's totally normal. It's also absolutely true for most people that pre-speech nerves usually go away once we're actually talking in front of the group. It's the anticipatory anxiety for days (and nights) ahead of time that gives us nightmares.
Here are some techniques to help you neutralize your extraordinary pre-speech anxiety.
Be prepared! Take the time to think out what you want to say in detail. What's your attention grabbing opening? What do you want the audience to learn? What's the take away? Outline your important points and the key phrases you'll use to explain them. Do you need a slide presentation or handouts? What action do you want them to take after you finish? How will you follow up with them? Prepare everything!
Rehearse! No matter how well you think you know your subject, do yourself a favor: never wing it! Say your speech to your mirror, the wall, a friend or family member, in the car, when you're exercising, etc. Record it on your phone and listen to the playback whenever you can. Rehearse it from start to finish at least 3 times before you give it. You'll learn if it's too long or too short to fit the time allotted to you. You'll discover cool ways of amplifying your important points, special phrases you want to remember to say, and others you never want to say again! Practice, practice, practice! The more sure you are of exactly what you want to say, the less power those butterflies will have over you.
Create a mantra! Before I begin to speak, I take a deep breath and say to myself, "Okay, Marion, permit yourself to be delightful!" It puts a smile on my face, calms the inner butterflies, and makes me feel light on my feet. Most important, it enables me to forget about focusing inward on myself and forces me to focus outward on the audience, to forget about myself and concentrate totally on them.
The big secret: W.I.I.F.T. What's in it for them? You have a gift to give the audience. That gift is the knowledge you're sharing with them. It's what they came to get. They want to go home knowing something they didn't know before. Focus on giving them your gift. Thinking about giving them your gift makes you forget about yourself. The more you focus outward on giving them your message, the easier it'll be to say what you came to say.
Big secret #2: Don't forget to breathe! Before you start, take 3 deep breaths and look at everyone in the audience. It's a chance to see them and for them to see you. Pause between points and breathe. Give them a chance to absorb the gem you just said before you give them the next one. If you need to check your notes, breathe as you do so. Breathing calms any butterflies that may be still fluttering around.
Don't forget to smile! Smiling makes you feel good inside and look great outside. Try it!