Public speaking has widely been cited as the no.1 fear of adults – ahead of the fear of heights, financial problems and even death! Mark Twain was famously quoted saying “There are two types of speakers: those that are nervous and those that are liars”.
We contacted some of the best public speaking bloggers from around the world and ask each of them the same simple question:
“What is your most unconventional but effective tip to help children and adults overcome public speaking nerves?”
What follows is a comprehensive resource that contains some powerful insights and tips (for adults and kids) from a range of very experienced people on the subject. We hope you find this a great place to get some inspiration.
We would love to hear from you. Do you have any unconventional but effective tips to help someone overcome their public speaking nerves? What is your favourite tip from this list?
Here are the responses we have received in no particular order.
1. To Feel Confident, Give
(Heather Stubbs, www.tipsontalking.com)
In my personal experience, the quality of energy the speaker is expressing is the most powerful element.
Everybody has butterflies before they speak. That’s a good thing! We need those butterflies to give us an extra boost of energy. But if you’re feeling really scared, you have too many butterflies inside to be helpful. You need to give some of them another job to do.
“Too many butterflies” means you’re worried about yourself. “Will my classmates laugh at me? Will the audience like me? Will the teacher give me a good mark?” Do you hear it? Me, me, me! Naturally, you want to make a good impression, but when “me” is where you put most of your attention, you just make yourself more and more nervous. How can you stop worrying so much about yourself? By focusing on giving. Send your butterflies on a mission to take good energy to your audience.
The most important part of a speaking event is not the speaker. It’s the audience. When you turn your mind away from “How can I get them to like me?” toward “How can I give them the best possible experience?” you will feel a lot less nervous. That’s because you have changed your attitude from getting to giving. Our attitude creates our experience, and a giving attitude feels better than a getting one.
How can you change your attitude? Start by genuinely appreciating the people in your audience. Be thankful that they have come to listen to you. Then put lots of energy into making your presentation as enjoyable for them as you can. How do you do that? Stand tall with your head high, to show your listeners you’re sure of yourself. Smile, to show that you are friendly and they can relax. Speak really clearly, so everyone can understand your words. Look your listeners in the eyes, so they know you appreciate them and care about them. Do it for them.
When your whole attention is on giving, you will not be so worried about yourself. It certainly works for me. And guess what? You can trust that in giving to your audience, you will make a good impression, because whatever you give, you get back. The more you love your listeners, the more they will love you. It’s all about the kind of energy you are giving out.
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2. Love Public Speaking Nerves Instead
(Brian Clough, www.no-fear-public-speaking.com)
When you try to ‘overcome’ something, you’re fighting it. And you normally only fight things you hate. Convince yourself this is true. Don’t most people say “I hate public speaking.” What they mean is they hate the way it makes them feel.
This is the huge mistake just about everyone makes with public speaking nerves. They hate the ‘nerves’ so they either run away or try and fight them. The trouble is, you have to keep on fighting them forever. You’ve made a big mistake if you think public speaking nerves are something to hate, to fight, to overcome.
Instead why not understand them and love them? You only have to do that once and then you’re free forever!
Here’s what you need to understand.
What you have labelled ‘public speaking nerves’ are physical sensations of arousal. As such they are incredibly useful. Your body magically knows it’s about to perform, so it’s getting you ready. It knows you won’t be eating any time soon so it cuts off blood supply to your stomach (you call this butterflies). It knows you might be using lots of energy so it makes you sweat a bit more to keep you cool (sweaty palms, armpits, even sweaty feet!). It speeds up your motor system so you can move more quickly (the shakes).
I love the fact that my body does all this and more. How cool is that! It’s like an auto-pilot that makes me perform better!
Overcome public speaking nerves? Don’t waste your time even trying.
Love them instead.
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3. The Overriding Technique
(Gary Guwe, www.garyguwe.com)
I’ve often been asked several times, “Gary, what should I do? I don’t know what to do or how to say what I need to say!”. To that end, I would always give some general advice about procedures and strategies, what to say and what not…
However, most would always retort with “buts”…
“But… what if I forget what I need to say?”
“But… what if I make a fool out of myself?”
“But… I’m not experienced enough!”
My answer to all those objections, (particularly the last one…), is to get experience! And there’s no way you can get experience if you don’t start speaking or doing something about your inexperience!
Granted, there will be initial fears and jitters – hence I came up with a new simple technique that works wonders for me and the people I work with. I call it the “Overriding Technique” – and it simply involves starting strongly and impactfully with your first words. This move requires one to speak at a slightly louder volume and slightly faster rate. The louder voice helps to override the negative thoughts and gives one the subconscious impression of power. The faster pace on the other hand helps one defuse and nervous energy by expending the adrenaline going through our system.
Of course, it goes to say that we will not speed up the speaker’s rate of speaking should he/she start off rattling like a machine gun! In essence, the speaker must not compromise articulation accuracy for speed… and if need be, he/she can just relay on speaking louder (as if he were already a powerful speaker) to portray a sense of confidence to the audience, to override his negative thoughts, and ride on the positive feedback of results!
4. Imagine you’re talking to a friend
(Nick Morgan, www.publicwords.com)
Before you get ready to give a speech, spend a minute or two imagining that you’re talking with your best friend. Picture your friend, imagine yourself in the place where you usually meet that person, and have an imaginary chat. Imagine the scene as completely as you can. Then take that feeling into the speech with you!
5. The Living Room of Conversation
(Michelle Barry Franco, www.michellebarryfranco.com/blog)
Pull up a chair in the living room of conversation with your audience.
What I mean by this is: literally remove the idea that you are there to somehow impress them with your wisdom and instead approach the interaction as a true conversation. Remember at all times that this interaction is about making a difference, sharing what you know with others who can use it to their benefit, and otherwise being of service. It’s not about you, it’s about them. When you truly believe that the public speaking isn’t about your performance but about their life enhancement, the pressure changes significantly.
And if I might add another separate but equally important tip: never, ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER… speak on something you don’t care about. Your topic absolutely MUST matter to you, for real.
6. The secret lies within your mouth!
(Gavin Meikle, www.inter-activ.co.uk/gavins-blog)
Encourage the speaker to produce a little saliva in their mouth before starting to speak.
If we are nervous we tend to get a dry mouth so if you deliberately produce a little saliva the brain relates that with relaxation and the nerves diminish.
Simple but effective.
7. Poetry on Paper
(Sims Wyeth, www.simswyeth.com/blog)
Write your favorite lines of poetry on bits of paper.
Throw the bits of paper into a hat.
Pass the hat around the room.
Every child gets a bit of poetry.
They read their bits of poetry to themselves.
They read it aloud.
They memorize it. It’s easy. It’s short.
They begin to declaim their poetry.
They wave their arms around as they speak it
They move around the room together, simultaneously speaking their lines.
They shout it, whisper it. Their voices are released all at once.
Two children encounter one another, and engage in dialogue, using only the lines of poetry.
Words go to work. The voice tries to make a point and change minds through the words.
There is energy, intention, and vivid expression of thought.
A playful release of voice, body, and the power of language to DO something to listeners.
8. The Ugly Doll of Fear
(Dr Joan Curtis, www.totalcommunicationscoach.com)
Identify the fear. What are you afraid of? What specifically do you fear? Are you afraid of what the other people will think of you? Are you afraid of losing your train of thought? Are you afraid you’ll fall off the stage? Write down everything you fear. Make the list as long as you need to.
Once you have identified this fear, name it. Your next job is to go out and purchase an ugly doll at a garage sale. That doll now personifies your fear which has a name. Before any presentation, look that doll in the face and then place it somewhere – our closet, your bookcase. Somewhere it can’t escape.
Now the fear is out of your way and you can enjoy the fun and pleasure of public speaking!
9. Preparation and Practice
(Steve Siebold, www.speakerstevesiebold.com)
I would tell the kids the truth, which is there is no easy way to overcome nervousness besides preparation and practice. When it comes to speaking impromptu, the best advice is to know that your opinion, ideas, and thoughts are just as important as anyone else’s, including your teachers, parents, or even the Prime Minister of Australia!
Stand up, be yourself, and speak with confidence and pride. You’re as good, smart, and important as anyone in your audience. Their response to you, good or bad, is up to them and has little to do with you. Do your best and be proud of yourself for speaking out. 95% of adults are terrified to do what you just did!
10. The Gremlin on your shoulder
(Kathy Reiffenstein, www.andnowpresenting.us)
Imagine that there is a little gremlin who sits on your shoulder and every time you start to get nervous about a presentation and focus on negative thoughts – like, I’m afraid I’ll forget what I wanted to say or I’m worried that I won’t know the answer to someone’s question or I’m scared that people will think I don’t know what I’m talking about – the gremlin whispers positive things in your ear and calms your fears.
For several days before a presentation, sit quietly each day for 10 minutes and let the anxious thoughts come. Then purposefully visualize the gremlin reminding you that those worries are just things you made up as (s)he tells you how good you’re going to be when you make your presentation and how much the audience will appreciate you.
11. Feel success through visualisation
(The Henderson Group, http://speakfearlessly.net/)
Imagine what you will experience prior to the presentation. See yourself walking toward the spot from which you will present.
As you continue walking to the front of the room, see if you can exchange the feelings of fear with a closely related feeling – excitement. Fear is often a part of excitement and their affect on the body is the same: pounding pulse, heavy breathing, a slight shake in the extremities.
Feel the empowering sense that this could be your break-through moment. This could be when you reach to a higher level than you ever thought possible.
Imagine yourself now in front of the audience facing them, looking calmly and intently into their faces. Take a big breath and feel relaxation welling-up within you.
Take a couple of long moments now to see yourself presenting. Imagine giving the EXACT kind of presentation you want – however that looks to you.
When you are done imagining yourself delivering your presentation, hear in your mind’s ear the enthusiastic applause of your audience. See faces that are pleased, moved and touched by what you’ve done.
For as long as possible, keep experiencing that feeling of triumphal success. Perhaps you will imagine shaking hands with people as they congratulate you. As you notice that they seem to want more, allow yourself to wallow in the audience’s warmth.
Repeat this process as many times as possible. Use the fearful feelings and thoughts to trigger your memory to visualize yet again.
12. Forget that you are young
(Dr Simon Raybould, www.curved-vision.co.uk)
Forget that you’re young. It’s not the point. It’s not relevant. (And it’s not helpful). In fact, worrying about being a ‘young’ presenter is a kind of arrogance: it assumes the audience are there to hear you. They’re not. They’re there to hear the message – you’re just the way they get the message.
To worry about being a ‘young’ presenter is about as common-sense-like as worrying about the colour of a telephone… So long as it gets the message over, it doesn’t matter what colour it is!
13. Nerves are normal
(Moira M Beaton, www.moirambeaton.com)
Nerves are normal, so we don’t want to overcome them but harness them to give our presentation energy. Speakers without nerves are usually complacent and dull.
I would advise anyone who is nervous that their nerves are not a reflection of their ability and that once they begin to speak and focus on the audience rather than their own performance, their nervousness will disappear. So, accept nerves are normal and useful, forget yourself and focus on transmitting your message to your listeners.
14. Fake it until you make it
(Denise Graveline, http://eloquentwoman.blogspot.com)
No matter how nervous you feel inside, it’s almost always not obvious to the audience.
So fake it until you make it in the confidence department. The audience won’t know, and you’ll get the chance to overcome your fear through practice. (And be sure you don’t tell the audience that you’re nervous.)
15. Let go and have fun with your presentations
(Jacki Rose, www.jackirose.com)
1 – Recognize that your audience supports you and wants to hear what you have to say.
2 – Act as if you had total confidence. You don’t have to show your audience how nervous you are.
3 – Prepare, prepare, prepare. Know exactly what you are going to say, but when you present, let it come out of your mouth naturally. Have faith that you have something worth saying.
4 – Let go and have fun with your presentations. When you have fun, your audience will have fun. When they have fun, they will retain more of what you are presenting. Plus, they will want to hear you more!
16. The things that work well for me
(Drew Provan, www.drewprovan.com/presentationmatters)
Always get to where you are talking early.
It’s the unknown that worries you (imagining the room, how many seats, podium etc) so go and see the room while no one is in there and stand at the podium or wherever you will be talking and look out at the room. It really helps you relax.
Take big breaths.
The other scary thing is the audience – so go and talk to them as they arrive. Just say hi to a few people and you will find they are not scary at all.
Make sure you practice your talk many times beforehand – that means even if you’re nervous you will know each slide and know roughly what you should say as each slide comes up.
I always go to the restroom and make sure my tie is straight, my teeth are clean, and my hair looks ok (and have a wee, of course!)
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