Controlling nerves when speaking

Previous articles in this series have looked at a variety of tips to help you with your speech and presentation skills. While a good subject, strong opening and lots of preparation and organisation are all essential, delivering with confidence (even if you don’t feel it) and using good body language are also necessary in order to convey your message effectively.

Everyone – even the most experienced presenter – will feel a twitch or tremble of nerves before taking the stage. The real trick is learning to control them so that it doesn’t negatively affect your performance.

Fear of public speaking can be due to the sense of the unknown. Risk of failure. Worries of looking like a fool or many other things. Whatever the reasons, the effect is the same. The fight or flight mechanism kicks in. You tense up, produce more adrenaline, and sometimes just want to run out of the room.

You may experience symptoms such as:

  • Butterflies in the stomach
  • Increased heart rate
  • Feeling light-headed
  • Feeling dizzy

Relaxation techniques

By relaxing your mind prior to your speech, you can take control of the nerves. Want to reduce the fear of facing your public? Here are some techniques you can try:

  • Physical – deep breathing, jumping up and down, exercises to tighten and loosen your mouth/jaw muscles.
  • Visualisation. Close your eyes and mentally visualise yourself going onstage and performing the speech to a rapturous audience. Vividly imagine each action.

It’s natural to feel anxious however well practiced and prepared you are. A little adrenaline will help you speak energetically. By using some of these methods, you’ll be able to speak, walk and act confidently. Your audience won’t even realise that you’re feeling nervous.

Using body language to polish your performance

If you’re unsure what to do with your hands – or even your face – while giving a speech, here are some hints and tips on using body language to help you present more effectively. Couple these with the relaxation techniques above, and you’ll be presenting like a pro in no time!

Body language is a great tool for adding emphasis and clarity to your spoken words, convincing the audience of your sincerity, passion, and commitment, and releasing nervous energy.

There are three categories of body language: the face, the hands, and the whole body. Let’s look at each in turn…

The face

Obviously an important one, as the face communicates more clearly than any other part of the body, and facial expression is often the key to the meaning behind a message. Match expressions with your words e.g., don’t offer a huge smile if you’re talking about something sad or traumatic – and remember that the audience will watch your face for clues about sincerity, attitude toward the message, and conviction.

Also remember to maintain eye contact and try to connect with each part of the audience as you speak. This projects an air of confidence and sincerity.

The hands

Gestures can reinforce verbal messages or convey a specific thought or emotion. These are mostly made with the hands and arms. Use strong, purposeful, and complementary gestures to strengthen your message. Add interest to your presentation and avoid distracting nervous mannerisms, such as fiddling with jewellery.

The three types of gestures you can use during your speech are:

  • Conventional gestures – symbols for words, such as a raised hand for “stop” or two raised fingers for the number two.
  • Descriptive gestures – used to describe ideas, such as holding the hands apart to show length or moving the hands and arms to indicate shape.
  • Emotional gestures – to suggest feelings e.g., shaking a clenched fist to show anger or determination, or shrugging the shoulders to show indifference.

The body

Your stance, posture, and movement all tell the audience whether or not you’re confident, alert and in command of the situation.

A relaxed, balanced speaking stance provides a solid starting point from which to gesture or move in any direction. Here you can also use the stage to anchor your message and create pictures in the audiences mind, referring back or forward to that hologram using gestures. I hope you’ve found these expert tips on public speaking and presentations of value, but if you have any questions or need any further assistance, please contact me and I’d be delighted to help.