Possibly the biggest complaint I hear from people who are reluctant to speak in front of a group is, “I just get so nervous! I don’t have the confidence I’ll do it right. I hate that shaky feeling and dread making a mistake.

What if they knew some of those nerves were normal, even a good thing? Would they get up to speak then? The answer I hear is disappointing. “Maybe. I don’t know. I can’t imagine not being scared and afraid I’ll mess it all up.”

What’s the key word in that answer? If you said “imagine,” you’re right.

What frightens most reluctant speakers and makes them unwilling to take a chance on themselves is imagining things that never happen, or wouldn’t happen if they knew how to prevent them.

We are told that visualizing ourselves in a situation will make it easier to actually be in that situation. Yet even though we might visualize ourselves speaking in front of the room with confidence, expressing ourselves perfectly, with no glitches in our visual aids, no starts and stops, absolutely smooth, confident and accomplished, when we actually get up to do it we still feel jittery and jangly, our hands shake, our knees knock and our stomach feels like two boxers are punching it out inside. Why is that?

When you get up to speak to a group, what are you thinking? Chances are you’re hoping you’ll say it right, you won’t forget anything, and that the audience won’t judge you and decide you’re not good enough.

Look closely at those thoughts. Who is the center of attention in all of them?

You are! Before you say a word, you’re judging and evaluating yourself, hoping you’ll be approved of, hoping, at the very least, no one will get bored, walk out or fall asleep, a sure sign that you’ve failed.

No wonder you’ve got the jitters!

Want to get rid of them? Change the way you think!

The simplest, most reliable and successful way to defeat the jitters is to stop thinking about yourself. Instead, focus entirely on the audience.

Why are you giving this talk? Because you have information that the audience needs to hear. You’re giving them the benefit they came for. Think about it. Aren’t you really offering them a gift that will make their lives better in some way? You know something they need to know and you’re sharing it with them. Sounds like a gift to me!

When we give gifts, we’re thinking about the recipients, not about ourselves. We’re giving them something we think they’ll like.

The exact same principle applies when we get up to speak. When we give our gift to the audience, we need to think about them. Are they getting our message? Are we making our message ‘land’. Putting our focus on them, we can’t possibly at the same time think about ourselves. We think sequentially; our brains only hold one thought at a time. If we laser in on giving the audience what they came for, we’ll forget to be nervous because we won’t be thinking about ourselves at all.

But what about those pre-speech jitters that come days or even weeks before we have to give a speech? Same principle: think about the audience, think about the gift you’re going to give them. Do what it takes to make your gift the best you can give.

Can you get rid of all the jitters or anxiety before you speak? Probably not. You might still feel butterflies flitting around in your stomach or your heart beating a bit faster than usual. This is normal. Your body is gearing up for this challenge and adrenaline is pumping into your system to give you the extra burst of energy you need.

A little added energy before you speak revs you up, gives you a running start, so to speak, and makes you feel powerful, poised on your toes to run a good race. It’s definitely a good thing.

Once you start speaking, focusing on the audience, those pre-speech jitters will melt away because you’ll be concentrating on giving the audience the gift they came for. You’ll be a smooth, energetic, confident, sexy speaker, and the audience will admire you, every time!