5 methods to conquer your nerves

First of all, it’s okay to be nervous. Even experienced performers like Sir Laurence Oliver and Madonna did and still do get ‘stage fright’. Your nervousness shows that you care about the outcome. Who would want to listen to a speaker who is not giving their best shot? Show me a sportsman who does not care about the outcome and I’ll show you an under performing individual. Playing small and playing within yourself works counter to your life’s objectives.

1. Take Control

You can control your nervousness by changing your mind set and accepting that it’s okay to be human and make mistakes. You see, nobody makes mistakes deliberately. That’s called sabotage. Even as an experienced driver of many years, do you still have a few narrow escapes in your car? Driving is far more dangerous than speaking when you think about it. The fact is that no matter how old or experienced we are, we still make mistakes. Just accept that fact and drive on.

Do not feel that you’re being judged by your audience. You are not. The occasional umm or ahh is not going to spoil the show. Trust yourself and be true to the value you know is within you and that you know you can deliver.

2. Build your Confidence

Most nervous and novice speakers find the unknown an obstacle.  Therefore, we can mitigate the risk of the unknown by doing some additional preparation.

In the New Year we’ll be working in a new and large venue with new logistical requirements. On my last visit, I spent three hours checking out the dimensions of the room, working out where the plug sockets are, how many rows of chairs we can have theatre style, will the projection screen be to the right or the left of the stage, does my projection gear work for that room, does the music and video get conveyed well enough by my computer speakers and their attachments? Add to that issues around the entrances and exits, anteroom, cloakroom, toilet access on the first floor etc etc etc. Having spent three hours working out all the details, I can now visualise the layout of the room, the breakout areas and the exercise space. Yes, three hours is a large investment in my time/your time, but as I have students arriving from all over the UK and abroad, to ensure that their journey is not wasted or stifled by situations that could have been avoided, I owe it to them to think and plan ahead. That gives me enormous confidence that the event will be a success. My focus is on the requirements of the audience. 

Further to that, arrive at the venue early. There is nothing worse than arriving in panic mode. Meet and greet your audience. Share some time with them as they’ll appreciate that personal touch. Working with a ‘warm’ audience is definitely a plus.

Get comfortable on stage, and make sure all of the equipment is working. Size up the room and prepare your first few key words/lines. Imagine yourself speaking to a packed audience. Ensure that the microphone has tested satisfactorily.

3. Plan, Prepare and Practise

You know the old saying about “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail”. We know that if we are to succeed in any endeavour, we need to put the hours in. You don’t lose ten pounds in weight by one thirty minute trip to the gym. Nor ladies, will you drop a dress size by dieting between your regular trips to the fast food vendor of your choice. Here are some tips on practising your speech:

Time your speech, but recognise that it will be slower in front of a live audience than when you practise alone. Add another 30-40%.

Use a voice recorder and play back regularly leading up the event. I play new material on my mp3 player in the car, or put it on your iPhone for the commute. If you have good quality video equipment, even better, but remember to watch it regularly. Make it feel like you’re having a conversation with yourself. Listen and then practice out loud when you get the opportunity. Your speech is a planned conversation and that’s what your audience want, a conversation that is thought-provoking and will give them at least three things to take away and act upon.

Ask a friend or colleague for some objective advice.

4. Walk on stage like a warrior.

So often, we become nervous about the perceived negative consequences of our speech. Most people are ten times better and ten times more capable than they imagine. Footballers win and lose. Indeed, sometimes teams that deserved to win, lose. That is the beauty of sport – we don’t know the outcome beforehand. All is to play for. Winning 6-0 does not make you brilliant one week and neither does losing 6-0 make you a failure the next. All anybody can ask is that while you’re on the park, you give it 100% effort. Wherever you are on your path as a speaker, give it your best shot and nobody will be disappointed. Step out confidently and own the stage. In speaking there’s nobody out there trying to stop you being great.

So instead focus on all the positive outcomes of your successful delivery. Imagine the generous applause from the audience and the positive feedback afterwards. Picture how your confidence will have improved. Have you made a step forward? Your comfort zone has now expanded. It’s time to start thinking about how your career and employment prospects will improve. If any negative outcomes arise, that is fine, acknowledge them and relinquish them.

5. Develop passion for your material

Speaking on a subject that you feel passionately about is the simplest method of overcoming your nerves. When you’re committed to your material the audience will feel it and so will you. You’ll have a greater connection with the material and with your audience. You will be speaking with warmth and verve and begin to ‘live’ your speech. Your body language will become animated and the gestures will flow. You’ll find yourself on the the same wave-length as your audience and you will start having fun on stage.

Sure, at first public speaking is daunting, but having the correct mind set and focus will help you enormously. There is so much that can be said on this subject, and I will introduce much more in subsequent articles and videos. 

For now, good luck with your next speech or presentation… Regards Vince – The Fear Doctor

PS – In the next article, there’ll be some more discussion on managing nervousness.