Even professional speakers get nervous before keynotes or presentations. To what degree depends on what’s at stake: Who’s in the audience? A competitor? A special loved one? Will their career take a big nosedive if they fail? Do they stand a chance of winning a huge contract if they succeed spectacularly?
Success comes not in the absence of fear, but in making fear work for, not against you. The goal is to control your nerves so that fear shoots just enough adrenalin into your system to drive you to a peak performance.
Here are the tips I’ve used for the past three decades to control my own case of nerves before keynotes in front of large crowds:
There’s no substitute for knowing your material and your delivery plan. I’m not talking about memorizing a script or reviewing a slide deck. By knowing your material, I mean that you thoroughly understand your content—the ifs, when, where, whys, and hows. Be confident that if the lights go out, if a fire alarm sounds for five straight minutes, or if attendees hammer you with questions throughout, you can pick up at any place and continue unruffled.
Such familiarity comes from actually practicing and timing your complete delivery aloud—not just reading through a script or reviewing slides. That kind of practice builds confidence. And confidence calms your nerves.
Arrive early. Check out the staging, the A-V equipment, the seating arrangement. Walk around the room and get a view from the audience’s perspective. Have a back-up plan in case of equipment failure. Knowing everything is in good working order alleviates stress from “what if” thinking.
A few minutes before your presentation, take a brisk walk. Or do isometric exercises by pushing yourself up off your chair then relaxing, or pushing all your weight against a wall, then relaxing. Warning: During the presentation, never stand in one spot and lock your knees. Instead, keep your knees relaxed. Stand and gesture naturally as if you were standing with a group of friends at a cocktail party, telling a great story.
Stand at the back of the room or in the hallway an hour or so before your presentation to meet attendees—for your benefit, not necessarily theirs. Sure, they’ll enjoy meeting a likable speaker. But if you ask questions about their job, why they’re attending, and what they hope to gain from the presentation, you’ll be even more confident your talk will meet their needs. (Of course, you’ll have done in-depth audience analysis much earlier.) Later, during your presentation, these same people will seem like old friends as you see them engaged from the stage.
You will likely be most nervous as you begin your presentation. That’s the time to find friendly faces in the audience—those people sitting up close, smiling, nodding, eagerly waiting for what you have to say. Avoid glancing at those people who look as though they sucked on lemons for breakfast.
When I coach presenters, if I suggest that they adopt the “ready” position, former athletes know exactly what I mean. If you have children on a sports team, you’ve probably heard their coach yell it also: “Heads up. Get ready!”
Just watch what that means in a variety of sports: Alert. Head erect. Eyes on the action. Feet directly under your squared shoulders (football the exception on this one). Weight shifted to the balls of your feet, ready to move. In this “ready” position, you look more energetic and confident. When you look more confident, you feel more confident.
If you notice that your voice sounds shaky, here’s a simple fix: Pause. Take a long deep breath. And continue speaking. Repeat as necessary to remove the quiver.
Remember that it’s not all about you. When you’re nervous, you tend to be overly conscious about your physical appearance, thinking that your nervousness shows (shaking hands, wobbly knees, tense facial expression, quivering voice). The audience members, however, concern themselves with their own needs—the content they’re hoping to get from your presentation. So rather than thinking about your appearance, keep your mind on the value you’re delivering.
Speaking with confidence to an important audience can be daunting. But learning to control your nerves is just another step in the process to becoming a masterful communicator.
Find more ways to deliver a powerful presentation every time in Speak with Confidence!: Powerful Presentations That Inform, Inspire, and Persuade. Learn more by clicking here.