My response is usually, “Why would you want to?”
I’ve found that people who have ZERO speech anxiety before a presentation have usually gotten lazy, sloppy, or cocky.
If you have no butterflies in your stomach at all, then it’s possible you don’t care and when you don’t care, you make mistakes.
For speakers who care, public speaking anxiety will never be totally gone. It may increase or decrease based on the audience, the topic, or the “stakes” of the presentation, but it will always be there. It’s what keeps you on your toes.
However, you certainly do want to control your nerves, otherwise, you’ll be miserable before and during the presentation, and could lose credibility by appearing unprepared, unprofessional, or lacking in expertise.
Tips for Keeping Speech Anxiety Under Control
1. Be prepared: Thoroughly research the topic and write your speech outline well in advance of your speech!
2. Know your audience: The more you know in advance about your audience’s demographics, size, knowledge on the subject, etc., the more prepared and comfortable you’ll feel and the more “customized” your presentation will be for that group.
3. Practice your presentation: By practice, I mean present it as if you were in front of your audience rather than just reading and re-reading your outline. If possible, practice in front of a “live” audience and get their feedback on your presentation. Also, be sure to practice SEVERAL times, not just once.
4. Stay with what you know: The worst presentation I ever gave was in college when I picked an unfamiliar topic. Sticking within your realm of expertise or experience helps you save time “learning” new information and you can apply that saved time to organizing your content and practicing your delivery.
5. Control your internal critic: Don’t let that little voice in your head tell you you’re going to fail or make a fool out of yourself. If you listen to it, you will. When you hear it start talking, change the thought. Instead of “I’ll make a mistake,” think, “I’ll be so prepared I’m unlikely to make a mistake, but if I do make a mistake, I’ll correct it and move on. Everyone makes mistakes!”
6. Visualize a successful presentation: Close your eyes and start with the beginning of that day. You’re going to get up early, have a good breakfast, leave for the presentation location in plenty of time, have good directions, get into the facility and get set up well in advance of your presentation, get started on time, people are going to laugh at all the right places, you’re going to be charming and engaging, etc., etc. You get the picture- and that’s the point- mentally rehearse the presentation as a way to prepare and calm your nerves.
7. Move! Don’t be static during your presentation. Use hand gestures that come naturally. Step out from behind the lectern to move closer to and engage your audience. If you’re a novice speaker, plan movement into your presentation. Once you’ve written your outline, look for opportunities to gesture, move into the audience etc. A great time to move is when you’re telling a personal story. If it happened to you, you know the story; you don’t need to read it! Move out, tell your story, and move back silently when you’re done.
8. Watch what you eat and drink within 24 hours of the presentation: Especially if you have a sensitive stomach. Also, don’t try to “artificially control” your nervousness, i.e., take a sleeping pill the night before or have an extra (or a few) extra glasses of wine. You’ll then have to drink more coffee to get going in the morning, which will then make you more nervous!
9. Meet and greet your audience before the presentation: If you stand near the door of the room in advance and introduce yourself to people as you come in, you’ll find you’re giving the presentation to people you know, rather than strangers. Then, during the presentation, find the friendliest faces in the audience (be sure to find several around the room, not just one person in the front row) and make eye contact specifically with them before you get started.
10. Finally, take steps to manage physical symptoms of speech anxiety:
Sweaty palms? Put baby powder or cornstarch on your hands right before you speak so you feel more comfortable.
Sweaty all over? Wear cool, comfortable, looser clothing, use prescription strength antiperspirant/deodorant, and blast the air conditioning in your car on the way to the presentation. Never wear your tightest, most uncomfortable suit that doesn’t breathe or move.
Dry mouth? Have a water bottle nearby with the cap off, ready to go. It’s okay to pause occasionally to have a sip, just don’t announce it, “Whew boy, I’m so nervous my mouth feels like the Sahara Desert, let me just take a drink of water.” Never announce your nervousness, or you’ll just draw attention to it.
Feeling faint or upset stomach? See #8 above!
Wavering voice? Be sure to speak BEFORE you get up to the lectern. That’s another benefit to the meet and greet at the door. You don’t want the opening word of your speech to be the first word you’ve spoken that day.
Fidgeting? Whether you adjust your clothing, play with your hair, twirl a necklace, rock back and forth, or cap/uncap a pen, these excessive and unnecessary movements are a sure signal to your audience that you’re nervous. Write a note every few inches in the margin of your outline reminding yourself NOT to do these things. Additionally, if you’re a hair fixer, usually women, you can put your hair up/back so it’s not in your face to adjust. As for fidgeting with objects, just don’t bring them with you- you don’t need a pen during a speech and if you’re a necklace or ring twirler, take them off before your presentation.
And one last bonus tip for those who have read this far: Speak from an outline, not a script and not note cards. Scripts end up being “read.” People don’t want you to read to them, they want you to speak. Note cards get shuffled, which is a distraction. They also get dropped– and usually by people who didn’t number the 100 note cards, so they have no idea how to get them back in order. A couple-page outline, laid out on a lectern, allows you to see where you’re going and frees your hands to gesture!
Comment and let us know if you have any other helpful hints or tips!