Public speaking anxiety afflicts most everyone.
Mark Twain said, “There are two types of speakers: those who are nervous and those who are liars.”
If you’re dreading an upcoming speech, you are in good company. Nicole Kidman, Hugh Grant, Elvis Presley, Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Margaret Thatcher, Barbara Walters, Johnny Carson and even Aristotle all suffered some measure of public communication apprehension.
We can take solace that many talented and important people have felt nervous before or while performing. If they can achieve so much despite battling butterflies, then there must be hope for all of us.
It’s impossible to eliminate public speaking anxiety, but here are 20 things you can do to keep calm:
1. Enlighten your audience; don’t just inform them.
Anyone can read words off a script. Your job is to simplify your subject matter and convey it in a compelling manner. You’ll be far less nervous if you focus on turning information into something your audience can relate to and remember.
2. Speak to your audience before you meet them.
Make your speech about your audience, not about you. Learn as much as you can about your audience, and prepare with them in mind.
If possible, ask attendees beforehand how you can help them in your presentation; find out how much they already know and what they would like to know. Do your best to gain insight into how your presentation might benefit the people you’re addressing.
3. Practice makes perfect.
Rehearsing only on the morning before you speak isn’t good enough. Set aside as much time as you can to practice your presentation. Don’t just rehearse in front of your dog; find someone you trust who will give you honest feedback.
Practice your content, your spoken delivery and your physical delivery.
4 . Get acquainted with the room.
Always get to the venue at least an hour early to make sure everything works, and then take as much time as you can to get comfortable with your surroundings. Spend 10 minutes standing where you’ll be speaking. Take account of potential distractions, such as the temperature, the lighting, creaky floorboards or ambient noise. Immerse yourself in the room before anyone else arrives.
5. Take a seat.
Once you’ve acclimated yourself, spend a few moments sitting in some of the audience seats. Note whether any view is obstructed, and identify where you might direct stragglers to sit if you have to deal with late arrivals.
6. Look sharp
Dress for the occasion; now is not the time for bold fashion experiments. Find out in advance how your audience is likely to dress for the event, and attire yourself accordingly.
If you are staying overnight to speak in the morning, take a spare shirt or blouse just in case breakfast gets the better of you.
7. Get moving.
Exercise before you speak: Take a brisk walk, go to the gym, swim, or take a yoga class. Exercise allays nerves and replaces dread with healthy adrenaline.
8. Get some sleep.
Go to bed early the night before your presentation. Avoid junk food and alcohol the night before. Set two wakeup alarms, just in case.
9. Take time to calm your mind.
Take time to meditate, pray, do yoga, practice self-hypnosis or employ whatever calming method you prefer before you speak.
10. Nail down your opening.
For many speakers, the first two minutes of a presentation are the most difficult. Practice your opening to the point that it’s ingrained in you, giving you a springboard into the meat of your speech.
11. Breathe deeply.
Establish a deep-breathing relaxation practice well before your presentation. Try doing five rounds of breathing in through your nose to the count of five, then breathing out through your mouth.
12. Don’t forget to smile.
Your smile helps both you and your audience to relax, telling you and them that everything will be fine. Smiling is contagious; it also makes you look friendly, confident and credible.
13. Connecting is essential.
Practice making eye contact with your audience—even if it makes you uncomfortable. It’s the best way to connect with people and make sure they are on board with you.
14. Make the audience feel something.
Rather than dumping information on people, try to establish an emotional connection with your audience. Shifting your focus onto the audience—and away from yourself— will make you feel less anxious and improve your chances of getting through to them.
15. Watch your posture.
The way you stand and position yourself while presenting is important to both you and your audience. A strong, balanced and relaxed posture will help you feel confident as you speak. If your body language is slumped, sluggish and disinterested, your audience will be turned off.
Stand tall and proud as you speak.
16. Ignore your self-criticism.
Stop telling yourself how nervous you are, what a terrible presenter you are or that you will forget what to say.
Remind yourself that you know your content, that you are prepared and that you have something of value to share. The audience is on your side. They don’t need you to be perfect; they just want you to be yourself and connect with them.
17. Anticipate and visualize success.
Picture your audience smiling, looking engaged and thanking you for a great presentation.
Imagine your audience nodding in agreement, listening intently to your presentation.
Despite what you may have heard, do not try to imagine your audience naked.
18 . Be present.
Before you speak, focus entirely on the present. Listen to your favorite piece of music. Practice saying a tongue twister. Play a game on your phone. Focus on your breathing. Do something that keeps you in the current moment and prevents your mind from wandering.
19. Have a clear, concise message.
Don’t read a script. Focus instead on your message and how you will support it and bring it to life.
Nail down your key points, stories, opening and closing by practicing out loud. Prepare notes for reference, but don’t hold them in your hand.
Think of your message in the form of a tweet—make it as clear, concise and compelling as possible. Use your characters wisely.
20. Don’t try to be perfect.
Your audience can’t see what you are feeling. They don’t want to see a flawless speaker on a platform; they want to hear another human being who has the courage to connect with them and help them in some way. Relax, be confident, and be yourself.