Overcoming Nerves

Hands up if you feel nervous speaking in public. 

You and millions of other people all over the world will put their hands in the air.


When I’m in class, once the audience has settled, the first thing that I tell them is that, “I am a recovering speaker.” Then I explain that my first professional speech thirty years ago was a disaster. My knees were shaking, my stomach was turning, my heart was bouncing out of my chest, my voice went thin and dry and then I couldn’t stop sweating – and it was profuse. I needed a windscreen wiper to get the sweat off. It was hideous.


I then explain that feeling nervous is completely natural and that we need nerves in order to deliver a good performance. The trick, however, is to control our nerves and encourage our butterflies to “fly in formation” so that we turn our feelings of nervousness into an excited energy that connects with the audience. World-class athletes aspire to a similar process and call it “getting into the flow”.


Thirty years ago, when I was an IT student, I listened to this teaching and to the techniques you employ to achieve this momentous transformation. But, to be honest, I didn’t believe it was really possible. Not for me anyway. How wrong could I have been? I practised and I visualised what I needed to do and nobody was more astonished than myself when it started to happen. One day I woke up and leapt out of bed in anticipation of a presentation I’d be giving that afternoon. After lunch, I was still on edge but in a positive way, confident that I now knew how to work my adrenaline rather than have it work against me.


 The Fear Doctor’s Six Tips for Overcoming Nerves

1.   The more you speak in public the less nervous you’ll become. Everything is possible with practice. The more you develop it, the stronger it will be. This is why it is important to grab every opportunity to speak in public. That’s assuming that you’re practising the right things, of course.


2.  Practice your speech in front of a mirror. However, with video cameras and tripods a fraction of the price they used to be, recording yourself and playing it back is my preferred method. Don’t aim for perfection – as it doesn’t exist and you’ll find yourself in a negative mind set the first time your words don’t flow. (We talk a lot about perfection and its debilitating impact on performance on my courses and workshops).


3.  Breathe deeply before your talk. Practice breathing deeply and then exhale in short bursts. Imagine on the out breath that your saying ‘pip’ for one second, stop and then ‘pip’ until you run out of breath. Creeping death syndrome is when you’re in a meeting and you know that you’ll be speaking in the next ten minutes. Try the exercise above. It can be done unobtrusively.


4.  Smile – taking control relaxes the audience, helps win them over and makes you look confident (even if you’re not). More importantly, a smile helps you to relax too. Don’t be in a rush to begin. Make sure the stage is clear, clean and tidy of boxes, litter, wires and cables. Indeed, having that presence of mind to manage your workspace will help you ‘take command of the stage’. 


5.  Make it your aim to deliver more public speaking and to “enjoy” it. If you are having fun while you are speaking, this will make a huge difference to how you feel and it will also “lift” your performance to another level. 


6. Have a plan. When you sit behind the wheel of your car, check that you’re in neutral, turn on the ignition, you check your rear view mirror, when it’s safe to go – you go. With speaking, stand up tall and walk to the stage, take your time. Plant your feet shoulder width apart and relax the knees. Smile at the audience. When it’s safe to go – you go.


Of course, it’s best to learn how to control your fear of speaking in public in tandem with learning the skills of public speaking. Your ability to do the former is partially dependent upon the latter – if you feel more confident as a speaker, you will be less afraid of failing and your nervousness will naturally diminish. Working within a recognised process that consistently delivers high level results can save you a phenomenal amount of time and reduce your levels of speaking anxiety. 


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