Transforming presentation nerves into confident communication

Gavin Meikle provides his top tips for becoming a great public speaker

Developing your ability and confidence to speak in public is probably one of the most valuable things you can do both for your self-esteem and your career/business.

However, overcoming the fear associated with standing up in front of a group of people is the crucial first step towards developing this important skill.

Here are some proven techniques for taming your terror:

  1. Know your enemy

Ask yourself “What am I afraid of?”  The most common answers are always;

  • Forgetting what I am going to say  (drying up)
  • Making a fool of myself (embarrassment)
  • Saying the wrong thing 

When we look at these things objectively, are they really so bad? Every speaker I know, including myself, has done all of these things and lived to tell the tale, and so will you.

  1. Be prepared

Reduce the risk of these things happening by planning thoroughly. Many speakers don’t make the time to prepare and therefore set themselves up for failure. The more important your presentation, the more important it is that you set aside time to plan out what you are going to say and why you want to say it.

  1. Rehearse

Rehearse your speech out loud, in front of a group of supportive colleagues who can give you constructive feedback. Alternatively, record yourself using a voice recorder app on your smartphone. 

  1. Visualise

Visualisation or mental rehearsal is a proven performance enhancing technique used in the world of sport. The more often you can vividly imagine yourself speaking confidently and fluently, the more confident you’ll feel and the more likely you are to do well.

  1. Change your language

The words you use when you speak to yourself are at least as important as the ones you say to your audience. Take a moment to jot down what goes through your head when you say the words “I am feeling nervous” then contrast it with what happens when you say “I am feeling excited.”

Reframing or re-labelling ‘nerves’ as ‘excitement’ will allow you transform your feelings and help you feel much more resourceful.

  1. Change your physiology

Physical activity is an excellent way to settle your nerves. Stretching, walking, deep breathing and even dancing have been proven to change our mood almost instantaneously.

When we get nervous, our breathing becomes shallow and rapid, and this just makes our nerves worse. Take a couple of deliberate deep slow breaths before you start to speak. This will calm your nerves and ensure that you have enough air to speak clearly.

Adopting a confident stance, with your feet hip-width apart, knees soft and your shoulders back will also help you to feel more confident.

7. Harness your energy

‘Nervous’ behaviours like shuffling around as you speak, rubbing your nose, or wringing your hands – are your nervous energy ‘leaking out’. Imagine drawing this energy back into your body. Then channel it back out purposefully through your eyes, hands and my voice.

You’re probably sceptical but I can tell you first hand that it works.

  1. Defuse limiting beliefs

Our beliefs are part of the operating software of our brain and play a huge part in determining what we can and cannot do. Sometimes we forget that it’s natural and healthy for our beliefs to evolve and change with time.

The first stage in changing a belief is to be open to doubt. The belief that you are not a confident public speaker is not a fact; it’s just a thought that you have ceased to question.

If your beliefs are holding you back, start to question them objectively.

  • Is this belief true?
  • What objective evidence do you have to support it?
  • What counter-evidence can you find if you look for it?
  • What would be a more accurate or up to date belief?

In conclusion
Public speaking is a learnable skill. The world is full of people who started out as scared of presenting as you are and who, with a little help and practice, were able to conquer their fears. If they can do it so can you.


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