Public speaking will probably always be one of the top human fears. And unfortunately, there’s no magic pill you can take to make that fear go away. Some of the biggest speakers in the world admit to getting nervous every time they speak. The next time you watch a big awards show, pay attention the hands of those big stars who are presenting or accepting awards. You’ll notice many of them are shaking.
We may have varying degrees of nervousness, but nearly all of us feel some kind of nervous energy before we present. That energy manifests in many different ways. Below, we’ll look at some of the most common nervous responses and some of the strategies we can use to combat and control them.
It’s hard to remember to make good eye contact when you are nervous. Looking up reminds you that there’s an audience watching your every move. So if you are someone who looks at the ceiling, or at the floor, or who keeps his eyes buried in his notes, you need to remember to connect with the audience via eye contact. Research has proven that when there is greater spatial distance between humans, more eye contact is needed to maintain effective communication. Try these strategies:
- Write reminders like “look up” or “make eye contact” on your notecards.
- Ask someone who you are comfortable with to sit directly in front of you in the audience. Start by making eye contact with that person. Then, begin to make eye contact with the people around that person, slowly expanding your gaze.
Shaking, sweating, pacing, freezing, or swaying. There are many ways your body can react to the stress of presenting in public. The good news is that they aren’t usually as noticeable to the audience as we think they are, but it’s still good to have some strategies prepared to cope with the body’s response to stress.
- If you sweat, plan to wear colors like black or white which won’t make sweating as obvious. Or, we wear a thicker jacket or blazer that might hide perspiration.
- If you shake, your body has nervous energy that needs to be burned off. Try moving to help release some of this nervous energy. Just taking a few steps while talking can help.
- If you pace when you are nervous, reign that energy in. To limit yourself, tie your physical movement to the movement in your speech and move only when you are transitioning. For example, deliver your introduction in one place, then physically move as you are transitioning into the first thing you will cover. Then move again when you are transitioning to your next main point.
- If you freeze or sway, it will look robotic or unnatural. Use the tip above to help you make natural movements at specific points during your presentation.
You may be like me and have trouble getting a full breath when you are nervous. Or maybe your voice is shaky and unsteady. If you have issues with breath or voice control, try the following tips.
- If you know you’ll have trouble breathing, plan to work an intentional pause into the first few moments of your speech. Maybe you have a great quote that ends with a reflective and elongated pause. Or use a rhetorical question and then follow it with a long pause meant to give the audience time to think. These strategies will give you time to catch a full breath.
- If your voice is shaky, usually it has to do with breath support. Try the above tip along with taking some very deep breaths right before or as you are going up to present.
Things like stuttering or blanking out are also common nervous responses. Science has proven over and over again that our brains don’t work as well under stress. A 2008 study published in Cognitive, Affective, and Behavioral Neuroscience proved that anxiety negatively affects memory and recall. Participants with anxiety had trouble repeating patterns they had been shown just moments before, while participants with low anxiety had no trouble repeating the patterns.
- Make sure to practice enough times that your presentation becomes like second nature. That way if you forget what you want to say, your procedural memory can kick in.
- Mostly, take some deep breaths. A stressed brain needs more oxygen to combat the fight-or-flight stress response, so breathing deeply can help you regain full mental capacity.
Remember that your same body and brain responses that serve to communicate nervousness, can work to communicate calm and a sense of security. You just have to know how to recognize the stress when it arises and bring it under control.
The strategies listed here are only a few of the many things you can do to cope with public speaking nerves. We have many more results-oriented methods that we’d love to share with you. Register now for our all-new, online course so you can tackle that next presentation with confidence.