"It's not giving the speech that terrifies me," said a colleague recently. "It's all that anxiety beforehand… those moments, days or weeks before, when I'm planning and preparing… that make me feel sick to my stomach!"
He's not the first or only speaker who suffers from knock-out nerves before giving a speech. Pre-speech anxiety comes in many forms: procrastination, sleeplessness, forgetfulness, irritability, queasiness… there are many more symptoms. They might be due to other causes, but they're very well known to many speakers, from the tentative beginner to the seasoned pro. Why does getting up in front of a bunch of strangers make us feel so scared? And what can we do to prevent it?
All speakers feel nervous before beginning to speak, for their own personal reasons. Yours are different from mine and from everyone else's. They have to do with our confidence (or lack of it) in our own abilities, or our feelings of self-worth and acceptance in the world. Do we feel competent and capable? Prepared and knowledgeable? Will we be listened to and taken seriously, feel appreciated and admired, etc? You can come up with your own additions to this list. But it's important to remember that, whether this is your first speech or your 50th, all speakers suffer from similar feelings to some degree every time they speak. The difference is how they've learned to handle them.
To overcome pre-performance anxiety and feel a lot more comfortable about giving your next speech, try these techniques:
Know your material. When you're absolutely confident about your subject, you'll feel much less anxious about presenting it to your audience. Plan ahead. Visualize any questions you might be asked and prepare answers for them. Believe strongly in the value of your topic. What you have to say is important. It matters! Your goal is to communicate this value with enthusiasm. If you believe that what you're saying is worth listening to, your audience will, too. You'll be so busy expressing your passionate belief, you'll never think about being nervous.
Focus on making your message land. If you're focusing on yourself…how you feel, how you look, whether or not you're going to stutter, stumble, or forget what to say… of course you'll be nervous! Who wouldn't be? It's not your job to concentrate on all your shortcomings! Your job is to give the audience a gift, the gift of your knowledge. In other words, your job is to focus on your audience, not on yourself! It's not about you. It's all about them! Keep that in the forefront of your mind when you're planning, preparing, rehearsing, and giving your speech. It's about giving them your gift! When you're focusing on them, you won't have time to think about yourself and you won't be nervous.
Use confidence-building techniques. It's normal to have pre-speech jitters. They're a sign that your adrenaline is flowing, you're on your toes, you're highly functioning, and all your instincts are 'go'. However, sometimes all that adrenaline feels a little overwhelming. Many speakers employ favorite techniques to feel calm, cool, and competent. One technique is to take a few deep breaths just before you speak and say to yourself your favorite confidence-giving mantra.
Mine is, "Okay, Marion, permit yourself to be delightful!" It makes me smile and feel good about myself. A couple of others are, "I am unique! What I have to say is important! No one can say it like me!" Or, "I am the best Marion Claire that there could ever be! I have a special gift to give this audience!" Create your own mantra, one that makes you feel powerful and ready to give your gift.
Use these techniques (and others, just ask me!) to help you knock out those pre-speech jitters. You’ll be amazed at how confident you’ll feel!