I Get So Nervous!
Three easy and effective ways to cure pre-speech nerves so you can do yourself and your topic justice
The majority of people who say they hate public speaking do so because they don’t like the adrenalin rush they get before they speak. Their breath quickens, they fidget - ferociously spinning rings round their fingers - and they want to skip to the loo. People hate these symptoms because they make them feel that they’re not in control of their body. And if they’re not in control of their body then anything - of a highly embarrassing nature! - could happen.
What these people need to realise is that their body is preparing them for the extraordinary task they’re about to do. And to perform in front of a live audience without that adrenalin rush actually requires a lot of forced energy, which doesn’t feel good either. So how the speaker manages their adrenalin is very important.
There are various methods to manage adrenalin and therefore feel less nervous, but here are the three that I have found the most effective…
The first is to take away the ego from your performance. When we feel that pre-presentation surge of nerves we’re usually thinking, ‘I hope I do well, I hope they like me, I hope nothing goes wrong and makes me look like a fool etc.’ It’s all very I and me. But if you change your perspective and put your topic first, so the moment you start to think ‘I hope I’ you think, ‘I hope I’ve done my topic justice’ then you'll stop feeling so vulnerable and actually get your priorities right.
Now, you can only do your topic justice if you’ve prepared properly, so make sure you do. If you haven’t done your audience analysis, if your key message or messages aren’t clear, and if you haven’t structured your presentation well then you probably won’t do your topic justice. But if you have, now’s the time to remind yourself of all that good prep work you’ve done. This is my second tip. Think about how many hours work you’ve already put in and, as you sit or stand waiting to go on, see that number, that clear, glowing figure 4 perhaps, and be encouraged by it.
And finally, breathe properly. When adrenalin is in the body, people often make one of these two breathing faux pas: hold their breath like a frightened mouse that’s trying to be still and undiscovered, or they gasp in lots of shallow breaths through the mouth. Both are dreadful in terms of vocal preparation. A really helpful technique, however, is if the presenter-in-waiting sits and leans slightly forward, pressing the palms of their hands into their upper thighs. The speaker should now breathe in through the nose and focus on the diaphragm descending and then exhale. The pressure that pushing down on the legs creates enables the speaker to locate his diaphragm. If you feel that your tummy is expanding as you inhale, that’s fine. That’s actually the diaphragm working. By breathing like this, you are preparing the voice for the vocal performance it’s about to give.
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