People tell me all the time, “I’m not good at speaking. I get too nervous.”
Fear of public speaking is common, close to universal. You’ve heard, I’m sure that it’s supposed to be more frightening than death to a lot of people.
I don’t know about that. But for sure, stage fright keeps many people from speaking. And it shouldn’t.
Truth is, just about everybody feels some measure of performance anxiety when they get ready to speak. Even many professional speakers who are at the top of their game get the jitters.
So whether you stand up and introduce yourself at a networking event. Offer a toast – or a roast. Or go all out with a seminar, speaking engagement or new business pitch. It’s a pretty good bet you feel a wave or nervousness just before you begin. And maybe it continues for a while as you speak.
That doesn’t make you a bad speaker. It makes you human.
And evolutionarily speaking, it makes sense. All eyes on you wouldn’t have necessarily been a good thing to our ancestors. It would have been a threat.
So that’s exactly how your body responds. Adrenaline kicks in, you’re ready to fight or flee. And you experience some combination of rapid, shallow breathing, dry mouth, tight chest, flushed face and neck, trembling hands, shaky knees, maybe a quiver in your voice. Some people even get nauseous.
All of it is normal, if not pleasant. All of it will pass. And you can hasten the process.
I have practical – and philosophical – tips.
First the pragmatic:
- Stay away from caffeine or other stimulants when you’re about to speak.
- Move your body – walk around, do some arm circles, even jumping jacks. Anything to discharge some energy and loosen up.
- Sense your feet on the floor. Ground yourself. When we’re nervous, the energy tends to get stuck in our head and shoulders. As you sense your feet, the energy moves again.
- Pay attention to the power center just below your navel. Again, that will help slow the swirling energy.
- Breathe. You may even try some slow deep breathing before you speak.
- Pause before you begin to talk. Give yourself a moment to connect with your audience.
- Eye contact with the individual listeners will help. They’re not just eyeballs staring at you. They’re human beings interested in what you have to say. Talk to them
Here’s where the philosophy comes in.
I got on a roll about this when I read an article by a very successful speaker. His title: “Crushing Butterflies.” His theory is that butterflies only show up when you’re not confident. They feed on self-doubt. And to crush these butterflies you must know your material inside out.
I hate the imagery of crushing butterflies. I want to ride on the wings of the butterflies. And you can too.
So yes, do prepare yourself and do know your material inside out. Know, too, that it’s perfectly possible to be confident, knowledgeable and nervous when you take the front of the room.
The anxiousness you feel is just energy. Instead of trying to squash it or contain it or crush it… use that energy to connect with the individuals in your audience.
Imagine a ray of energy going from you to each of the people listening to you. Your eyes to their eyes. Your heart to their heart.
Remember that the main thing the audience wants from you is – you. Yes, they’re interested (you hope) in what you have to say. But the relationship you create with them trumps content every time.
Think of your talk as a conversation rather than a performance. You don’t have to impress, you don’t have to put on a show. You just need to connect with your audience, one person at a time.
And you will be fine. Even if your face is flushed or your mouth is dry or your knees are weak. Let those butterflies carry you along. And as you do, you … and your audience … will be able to relax and enjoy the conversation.
Comment below and tell us what kind of speaking you do and how you’ll ride your butterflies.