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How to Deal With Nerves When Asked to Give a Speech

How to Deal With Nerves When Asked to Give a Speech

We’ve all heard the statistics: People are more afraid of public speaking than they are of snakes, spiders, or even death. You are not alone.

It is stressful to think about a room full of people whose judging eyes are all on you. What if you forget what you wanted to say? What if you trip over the microphone cord or tuck your skirt into the back of your pantyhose? What if you have broccoli in your teeth, gravy on your tie, or they boo you off the stage. What if everyone thinks you’re an idiot?

Thinking this way is what leads most people to feel that death is a better alternative than public speaking – but it’s all in your imagination. Just like anything else you’ve ever learned to do, you can overcome your awkwardness by understanding the mechanics and practicing.

The audience is on your side

Have you ever hoped a speaker would stink? Be boring? Fail miserably? Of course not! You want to be entertained and informed just like the rest of the audience. You want to see the speaker be successful. Even if the speaker is a complete stranger, you are rooting for him and you truly hope he will do well.

Think about it. It’s why we watch game shows – we love to see people win! We want to see people succeed. It’s simply human nature.

Your audience is rooting for you! Every person in the room is hoping for your success. Remember this at all times: The audience is on entirely on your side.

Prepare for both the best and worst

One thing I’ve learned as a coach is that people spend so much time preparing for the worst things that can happen (and never do) that they forget to plan for when the best things happen! Do you even know how to handle success?

Focus on your upcoming speech from the perspective that you are planning for a really good experience. Then, and only then, ensure you have the bases covered for what may happen along the way. Know your speech well enough that if the projector doesn’t work, you don’t need your PowerPoint. Have your opening and closing memorized so that if you need to crop your time, you can. Bring an extra pair of pantyhose. Bring an extra tie. Do a sound check before the event so you know that it works and where the dead spots are. Having a plan for the things that could go wrong will allay a lot of your fears.

Throughout my professional speaking career, I have had sound systems crash, the lights go out mid-speech, stage stairs collapse, fire alarms go off, venues change, I’ve even been asked to chop my time in half minutes before going on. The odds are in your favor, though. These things have happened to me over the course of 15 years. Still, I have never been booed off the stage. The audiences were still on my side.

Prepare for the best possible outcome, but also be prepared to cope with any of the things that could happen, with the assurance that they probably won’t. Every ship has lifeboats, but no ship plans on sinking. Plan for smooth sailing, be prepared for rough waters if you hit them.

Practice, practice, practice

Remember the first time you tried to tie your shoes? Roller skate? Drive a car? Read? It wasn’t easy. It took practice. Now it’s second nature. Speaking is the same way. The more you practice, the easier it will get.

After you’ve written your speech, practice in the mirror. Then, practice for a family member – even if it’s your dog. (My dog is my best sounding board.) Practice for some friends. Practice in your car, in the shower, while you take a walk. Practice in your head. See yourself being calm, cool, and dynamic.

Join a Toastmasters club. This is a wonderful organization that allows you to grow at your own pace in a supportive environment. You can practice your speech and get immediate feedback. It’s both inexpensive and invaluable to a fledgling speaker.

You’ve got this

The day of your presentation, you will have hours of practice and preparation under your belt. It was all worth it. You feel ready.

Get to the venue early. Scope out the room. Walk across the stage, if there is one. Do a microphone and equipment check. Familiarize yourself with the speaking area. Look out to where your audience will be and visualize them smiling back at you.

A few minutes before you are scheduled to speak, head to the nearest bathroom. Look in the mirror. Look yourself in the eye. Tell yourself that you are intelligent and worthy. You’ve rehearsed. You’re ready. Set your intention to deliver a dynamic speech. Do one last broccoli-in-your-teeth and hair check.

Just before you take the stage or the lectern, take a deep breath. Release it slowly. Shake hands with the person who introduced you. Let them leave. Then, take a look around and smile at your audience. They’re on your side. You’ve got this.