“It’s not giving the speech that terrifies me,” said a colleague recently. “It’s all that anxiety that paralyzes me beforehand. I feel fine once I start to talk and more confident as I go along. It’s just in the moments, days or weeks before, when I’m planning and preparing, that I feel so sick to my stomach I wonder how I’ll ever get through it!”
He’s not the first or only speaker I’ve encountered who suffers from knock-out nerves before giving a speech. Pre-speech anxiety comes in many forms: procrastination, sleeplessness, forgetfulness, irritability, emotional lack of control, abnormal physical pains, unusual appetite or refusal to eat at all… these are just some of the most common symptoms. All of these might be due to many other causes besides having to give a speech, but they’re very well known to many speakers at all levels of experience, from the tentative beginner to the seasoned pro. What is it about getting up in front of a bunch of strangers that makes 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 on the planet. Some of them have to do with how we feel about ourselves, our confidence in our own abilities, our feelings of self-worth and acceptance in the world, how competent and capable we are, whether or not we feel prepared and knowledgeable, whether we’ll be listened to and taken seriously, whether we feel appreciated and admired, etc. You can probably come up with your own additions to this list. 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.
Here are a few recommendations to help you overcome pre-performance anxiety and feel a lot more comfortable about giving your next speech:
1) Know your material. When you’re absolutely confident about your subject and how you wish to present it, you’ll feel much less anxiety about presenting it to your audience. Plan ahead. Visualize any questions you might be asked and have an answer prepared 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 belief with enthusiasm, to make your message land. 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.
2) Focus on making your message land. If you’re busy thinking about 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! You’re there to give the audience a gift, the gift of your knowledge. You’ve worked hard to make your speech as good as you can. Now your job is to focus on getting your message across, making it land. In other words, your job is to focus on your audience, not on yourself! It’s not about you. It’s about them! Keep that in the forefront of your mind when you’re planning, preparing, rehearsing, and giving your speech. It’s not about you. It’s about giving your gift! It’s all about them! When you’re focusing on them, you won’t have time to think about yourself and you won’t be nervous.
3) Use confidence-building techniques. It’s normal to have pre-speech jitters. To a certain degree they can be helpful. They’re a sign that your adrenaline is flowing, you’re on your toes, you’re highly functioning, all your instincts are ‘go’. However, sometimes all that adrenaline feels a little overwhelming, in which case many speakers employ favorite techniques that make them feel calm, cool, confident and competent. One such 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 I’ve heard are, “I am unique! What I have to say is important! No one can say it like me!” Or, “I am the best (insert your name here) that there could ever be! I have a special gift to give this audience!” Create your own, the one that makes you feel powerful and ready to give your gift.
Want to know more about knocking out the pre-speech jitters? There are many more techniques that may be helpful. Just ask. I’ll be happy to talk about them with you. Contact me at Marion@marionclaire.com.