Are you nervous speaking in front of people? During a presentation, do you get flustered and forget what you wanted to say? Does the thought of public speaking scare you? If any of this is true, today’s article is just for you.
Nerves are normal
First, please realise that if you are nervous before speaking in front of a group, that just means you share the same fear as almost everyone else on the planet. It even has a name: Glossophobia.
Fear of public speaking regularly tops the list of polls of people’s fears (with death and spiders coming second and third respectively!). And when I speak to groups and ask who would be nervous if they had to swap places with me, 80-90% of the hands are always raised (see the example in my TEDx talk).
And for the record, even though I speak regularly and train others to speak, I still get nervous.
Accepting that nerves are normal is part of the solution. Here are a few simple techniques which will further increase your confidence, sometimes dramatically so.
Tip 1: prepare by practicing!
For me, the best way to get over my nerves is to prepare well. And the best way to prepare well is to practice. I typically practice the full speech or presentation, out loud, at least 10 times.
Why so often? I find that the first five times I’m just trying to get the content right… changing the order, cutting out less important content, adding a story or a joke… anything to improve the flow. And then the final five times I use to make sure I know by heart what I want to say.
I prefer to practice at the location where I will ultimately give my talk. For my TEDx talk, I went many times to the High Tech Campus Conference Centre to practice on the stage to an empty auditorium.
Tip 2: the power pose
What should you do if you are minutes away from going on stage and you start to get scared? There is one simple trick which will increase your confidence: the power pose.
This is based on a simple idea: just as your posture reflects your emotions, so your posture can influence your emotions. For example, you smile when you are happy. But when you smile, you increase the chance that you will also feel happy.
The power pose works the same way. Imagine that feeling you get when you’ve had a huge achievement, eg won a race. You would throw your hands in the air, maybe with clenched fists – you’ve done it! To do a power pose, you simply hold that triumphant pose for about two minutes… and your emotions will catch up to your posture. Try it next time before you give a presentation and see how your self-confidence increases.
Tip 3: coping with a mind blank
What about if, when you are giving your presentation, you suddenly forget what to say? I’m indebted to Serge van Rooij (Bex communicatie) for this next tip.
Ensure you have a glass of water near you when you speak. If you forget what to say, simply reach out and take a sip of water.
For your audience, this will seem a completely natural pause. But for you, it will buy a precious few seconds in which you can gather your thoughts. Though it will only be a moment for your audience, it will seem a lot longer to you because your mind will be racing. And during this time you will almost certainly remember your point and be able to continue, naturally, with your talk.
Tip 4: confess your nerves
If all else fails, just be open. Say something like, “I’m sorry, I’m feeling a little nervous in front of you.”
This will produce two surprising results. First, just about everyone will be able to identify with how you are feeling and will give you a little more leeway. But most importantly: you will feel like a weight has dropped from your shoulders. I’m not sure why this is, but this simple confession will enable you to be much more natural and confident from that moment on.
If you do this, don’t be surprised if people come to you afterwards and say, “You didn’t seem at all nervous to me!”
Nerves are naturally and every speaker feels them. The above tips will hugely increase your confidence in front of a group. But so will professional training. So get in touch if you want to learn to Present with Confidence!
Mark Robinson is a senior software engineer at TMC. In addition, he has his own business, Mark Robinson Training, via which he gives workshops, presentations and coaching to help people communicate more effectively to groups. With his engineering background, he is particularly suited to supporting the international, technology community of Eindhoven. He has spoken at TEDxEindhoven in 2016 and is now a TEDxEindhoven speaker coach.