Speaking Make You Nervous (Part 2)?
How to use your own nervous energy to create positive results.
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Do you feel nervous just before you deliver a presentation? Does your heart race at the thought of speaking in public? Do you avoid opportunities for speaking because it makes you so nervous? Does your voice shake or your face turn red? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then this episode is for you.
What We Learned Last Week
In last week's episode How to Overcome Fear of Public Speaking, we talked about how just about everyone experiences nervous energy – it’s different for each person, but it is definitely a common, normal feeling. My suggestion was to take advantage of this heightened sense of alertness to help you deliver stronger presentations. Create positive results by transforming your nervous energy. I promised last week several techniques to help you move bad stress to good stress.
So let’s get started.
Practice, Practice, Practice
An extremely effective way to reduce anxiety is to practice. If effective delivery becomes second nature, you’ll certainly be more successful when you are under pressure.
When it comes to presentations, what I have noticed is that many people procrastinate. Waiting until close to the deadline to get started. And once they do, they agonize over each and every slide—adjusting and refining the minutia, until the night before the presentation. When the slides are “done,” they run through the entire presentation in their head, once or twice, or worse they run out of time and just “wing it” with no practice.
No wonder they’re nervous.
Of course, YOU would never do that, right? Well, just in case, here are a few suggestions. You know, for those other people.
Do You Practice Properly?
First, practice right away, before the slides are done. How do you do that? By practicing small segments. Just hit record and start talking about the content, maybe two or three minutes, as if you are talking directly to a colleague. (By the way, Viddler and Utterz are good free tools for this.) Practice each segment a few times. Don’t worry about trying to say the same words each time—just focus on your overall message.
In fact, it’s good if each time you are able to talk about the same content in slightly different ways. This will help you to refine your message. In addition, by starting your practice earlier, you can practice these little segments over time, whenever you have a few minutes. And it turns out this type of practice is more effective than trying to do it all at once, so overall you’ll get done faster and you’ll feel less anxious!
The added advantage of practicing in segments is that should a question come up (either before or during the presentation), you’re prepared with a professional polished response that’s perceived as spontaneous.
Finally, be sure to practice the beginning more than the other segments. That’s when the critical first impression is being made and it’s also what your audience is likely to remember. (Of course, that’s exactly why you’re likely to be more nervous).
Visualization or Mental Rehearsal
Another proven practice technique is visualization. This technique is common among athletes, and research says it works for presentations too! People who visualized a presentation reported less anxiety when they delivered a talk.
I like to visualize my presentation the night before, just before I go to sleep and again in the morning when I wake up. What exactly do you do?
The idea is to create a mental image, one with intense clarity and detail and also includes a positive outcome. This means, for speeches you should imagine yourself in the specific room of your presentation, you should imagine yourself comfortably addressing the group, and you should imagine people giving you positive feedback. The more specific, the better. Again, the idea is that through detailed, positive mental rehearsals you will have a better outcome.
If you’re a regular listener, you already know that I am a fan of deep breathing. It helps to lower your blood pressure, relax your muscles, slow your heart and respiration rate. Some even suggest that deep breathing helps to turn off analytical thinking and racing thoughts. When it comes to speaker’s anxiety deep breathing definitely helps.
Listen again, to The Public Speaker episode #3, to remind yourself of the basics of deep breathing. Usually when someone is introducing me, I’m deep breathing. If I’m really nervous, I’ll do a short breathing exercise. It’s based on a technique called the relaxation response, developed by a Harvard physician, Hebert Benson.
[[AdMiddle]I find a quiet spot to relax and focus on my breathing. Then I just count backwards slowly from 10 to 0, one breath per number. For me, I usually have to do one or two rounds (sometimes three) before I feel better. Sometimes I even write the words relax and breathe in big print on pieces of paper, and keep them in front of me as a reminder.
Do What Relaxes You Normally
This next suggestion, may sound somewhat obvious, but do something that relaxes you just before you speak. We all have our own favorite ways to relax.
Maybe it’s a physical activity. From shoulder shrugs and head rolls to more elaborate exercise – like yoga, a walk or a run. Or maybe for you, mentally relaxing activities are better. A short conversation with your significant other, listening to music, or reading a book. Of course, most of these activities need to be done before you enter the presentation room.
The idea is that you need to something that is relaxing FOR YOU and you already know what that is.
Quiet That Inner Voice
Once you are relaxed, you need to turn off any negative internal mind chatter—you know that little voice in your head that competes for your attention- the one that says, “I’m not ready,” “What if I lose my train of thought?” “What if I someone asks me something I don’t know?” and so on.
To quiet your internal voice, think about presenting as a conversation rather than a performance. Look at it as a chance to share what you know with some people who are interested in what you’re saying. Train you inner voice to say “They seem really interested in this,” or “I’m having fun,” or “I’m doing a good job.”
The bottom line is this, if you can replace your negative thoughts with more positive statements, your mental distractions will be minimized and your speech is more likely to go smoothly.
Learn and Use Several Techniques
In this two-part episode I covered several techniques, there’re still more, but we’ve run out of time. Be sure to practice effectively, visualize your talk, practice deep breathing, do something relaxing, and quiet the inner voice. If you really struggle, consider hiring a professional to help. And don’t just try one technique; the key is have a set of techniques that help you in different situations. Tell us in the comments your favorite ways to reduce speaking anxiety.
This is Lisa B. Marshall. Passionate about communication; your success is my business.