You’re not alone if you experience the jitters when speaking in public. I can relate to the sweaty palms, shaking knees, tight and dry voice that can plague a public speaker. As a timid child, speaking up in class was akin to standing on a tiny platform about to perform a high dive. (I care not for heights and I’ve never learned to dive!)
I’m a different person today, not only has speaking been a part of my career for decades, I now work with entrepreneurs who want to market their services through speaking. Many of these successful entrepreneurs fear speaking as much as I did when I was young.
Here are a few techniques you might try to ease your anxiety:
1. When faced with a challenge (public speaking) that causes our body to retreat to flight mode our right brain starts firing rapidly. This means our logical left brain shuts down a bit and fails to provide the commonsense needed to get the job done. In order to create a balance between our left and right brain hemispheres I suggest my students perform brain train exercises before speaking. Here’s one you can try:
Place your arms out in front of you parallel to the ground with your hands clasped but index fingers forming a steeple. Think Charlie’s Angels. With your eyes focused on your pointed index fingers, slowly form a lazy eight figure with your arms. Allow your eyes to follow the movement as your arms move from side to side. After a bit, either dizziness will replace your fears or more likely you’ll find yourself feeling calmer. The movement allows you to engage your left brain and get the logic flowing again. Try it before any nerve-inducing situation.
2. Rehearse your talk. Okay, you knew that was coming but you’ll be amazed at how people fail to practice sufficiently. Seriously, you must put the time in to construct and speak your talk out loud. It might take 30 minutes a day for a week for a short talk and as much as 10 weeks for a major presentation to learn your speech so you own it. Practice, practice and practice-out loud.
3. Write out your speech. If you’re a nervous speaker (and this also goes for those of you that think you can wing it) take the time to write out your talk entirely. Then read it out loud. Then edit. Then read it out loud. Then edit. Then read it out loud. Then… Got it? Great speeches are well crafted. They needn’t be long… just edited to within an inch of their life! Enlist a trusted listener to give you honest feedback or get coaching. This practice is to understand how others will hear your talk.
4. Breathe from your belly. Nerves cause us to raise our shoulders and restrict our diaphragm from doing its job properly. My own experience has shown how a normal sounding voice can become pinched and irritating to others when under stress. You might not hear it yourself until someone points it out. So practice some yoga belly breaths, drop your shoulders and speak with conviction from your gut. Record your speech twice, the first timer while holding your shoulders up and breathing from your upper chest and a second time while relaxed and breathing with your belly.
5. Jumping jacks. Or the equivalent. These work to both shake off the jitters and at the same time focus the energy so you don’t appear like Casper the Unfriendly Ghost on the platform. People will listen to just about anything except a boring speaking. Amp up your energy by exercising before you takes the stage. Nervous speakers can also appear unattached to their bodies. Their feet are moving in one direction, while their head is turned in another direction. It’s not pretty and it confuses the audience. Use those jumping jacks to expel excess energy and anchor yourself by standing firmly on two feet once on stage.
Speaking is a learned skill. Some may excel more than others but anyone who is determined to change their life and/or business through speaking can learn how to speak effectively. Try it.