Does the thought of public speaking make your heart leap — in terror?
What happens next? Do you judge yourself for being nervous? Do you feel inadequate to play the role of “speaker”? Do you wish you could figure out how the heck to just get it over with?
I promise you that you are not alone. Anticipating being seen and heard can feel very vulnerable, and our insecurities often jump to the surface when we are asked to speak to a group. However, with some simple changes in your thinking, you can have a much more positive experience as you prepare and when you present.
Here are some strategies that can help you manage any insecurities and nervous energy that may arise when your boss asks you to do the next pitch or brief the board. You’ll learn how to build your confidence by shifting your focus from your sweaty palms to the powerful impact your message can make.
Who Are You?
A lack of self-confidence often appears as a questioning of your very being, such as:
* Who am I to lead this meeting?
* Who am I to give my opinion?
* Who am I to apply for this job?
If you have ever asked yourself these questions, then you have experienced how disempowering they are. These questions have judgment baked into them, which can lead you to feeling small.
Instead, list all of the reasons you are the person to take on the challenge at hand. Here are some statements to consider:
* I have experience in this area.
* I have a different or unusual perspective on this subject matter.
* My background in several different areas enables me to see this from
a new angle.
Here are beginnings of statements that can lead you to some helpful new ways to think about your qualifications for speaking about a specific topic. Jot down what comes to mind as you read them:
* I know a lot about ______________________________________.
* When I experienced _____________________________________, I learned ______________________________________________.
* I am concerned about ____________________________________.
* I am hopeful about ______________________________________.
Reminding yourself about your qualifications is a great way to build your confidence.
Get Emotionally Centered by Focusing on Your Mission
Instead of focusing on nerves or potential technological snafus, direct your emotional energy toward the ideas you are trying to communicate, why they matter, and what is at stake. Here are some questions that can help you to tap into your passion as you gain clarity on your mission:
* What needs to change in your organization, society, or the world?
* Why does this change matter?
* Who is affected negatively or positively by the way things currently are?
* Who will benefit if the change you are championing happens?
* Why is this change important to you?
The more you are personally and passionately invested in your mission, the more powerful your emotions will be and the more effective and confident your communication will be.
How to Get Out of Your Own Way
One of the main challenges of preparing yourself mentally and emotionally for public speaking is to stop focusing on the negative (nerves, potential problems) or on misguided assumptions you have. Here are a couple mistakes you can correct right now:
Mistake No. 1: Thinking You Should Be Calm Onstage
You probably think you want to be calm onstage, right? Think a little harder about that. Will being super chill while presenting make the impact you want? Did you ever leave a riveting speech or performance and say, “Wow, I was so moved. That performer was so calm”?
I’m guessing no. What gets and keeps our attention is a performance that is electric, dynamic, and passionate rather than calm, contained, and controlled. The best presentations make you say something more along the lines of, “That performer was a force of nature!”
Such a response would imply that there was a lot of energy on the stage or set. The more committed and passionate you are about the topic at hand, the more riveting you will be. Instead of thinking you need to be super chill, spend some time determining what the best amount of energy is for your particular event.
Mistake No. 2: Thinking That Feeling Nervous Is a Bad Thing
You might think, “I wish I didn’t feel so nervous. I hate this pit in my stomach and my shaking voice. I feel terrible and am really distracted.”
Let’s break this situation down. There are the physical responses you are having: a rapid heartbeat, sweating, or shaky hands. Then there are the thoughts, usually judgments, you are having about these responses: “Everyone can see I’m a wreck! My body is being taken over by stress and I can’t think straight!”
What’s happening is that you are nervous about being nervous. These thoughts do not help you focus, nor does this narrative set you up to succeed. Accepting these physical responses, rather than judging them and making up stories about what they mean, is key. The more comfortable you can get with the reactions of your body, the less stressed you will be. Instead of reacting with panic, see if you can respond with acceptance and patience.
Check out these reactions instead:
* “My hands are shaking. That’s all right. It just means I’ve got some extra energy flowing through my body, which I actually really need right now!”
* “My heart is racing. It’s okay. I’m going to take a deep breath and slow down. The issue I’m sharing with my audience deeply matters to me, so it makes sense that I feel a reaction when I think about it.”
Accepting how you feel is much better than fighting how you feel.
Your Relationship With Your Nerves
Thinking about your nerves objectively is a good way to separate them from the content of your presentation. As you answer the following questions, you will heighten your awareness of your current responses to your nerves:
- If you are nervous, what happens to you physically? (Examples: I turn bright red; I start to sweat; I feel the adrenaline.)
- If you are nervous, what happens to you mentally? (Examples: I go blank; my thoughts race; I get very self-critical; I get really focused.)
- If you are nervous, what happens to you emotionally? (Examples: I get emotional; I’m scared everyone can see I’m nervous; I feel like a failure; I feel good; I am challenging myself in a new way.)
- Is a need to be perfect or a fear of being imperfect part of why you feel nervous?
Now that you have an outline of how you’ve felt about your nerves in the past, you can identify areas that could use improvement. The following questions will give you strategies for the next time you feel nervous:
- What could be a healthy way to think about striving for excellence and being the best version of yourself?
- The next time you are having the physical experiences you described in response to the first question, what are some helpful ways for you to talk to yourself about them?
Excerpted from Your Guide to Public Speaking by Amanda Hennessey. Copyright © 2019 by Simon & Schuster, Inc. Used with permission of the publisher, Adams Media, a division of Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved.
Amanda Hennessey is the founder of Boston Public Speaking, San Diego Public Speaking, and Boston Acting Classes. Your Guide to Public Speaking: Build Your Confidence, Find Your Voice, and Inspire Your Audience is her first book.