Here is a re-issue of my most-read post ever on the blog, as promised last week!

In my last post, I listed some advice for nervous speakers that I characterized as unhelpful.  Unhelpful, at least, for occasional speakers, those who might be called upon once in a while to get up in public and find they’re terrified of making fools of themselves.

And I promised in this post to provide what I considered some more useful tips.  Those tips don’t have as much to do with your message…whatever it is….as your attitude.

In sales, trainees are counselled to “make a friend.”  What is going to make the person you’re speaking to (or pitching to) like you, relate to you?  They’re much more likely to process what you’re saying, and ultimately agree with it, if they feel you are similar to them, that you understand them, know where they’re coming from.  Public speaking and sales have a lot in common; in both, you’re trying to sell yourself.  You’re trying to charm your listeners with your personality, and ultimately, that’s how you’re going to gain control of your audience.  So you can:

  1. Use self-deprecating humour. Tell a story in which the joke was on you, or you learned a lesson.
  2. Practise, for heaven’s sake! All good speakers are prepared, and the more prepared you are, the more confident you’re likely to feel.  Some people like to speak in front of a mirror, and others record themselves, so they can hear where they are hesitant or perhaps speaking too quickly.  Experiment, and find what works best for you.
  3. Don’t expect perfection from yourself. Give yourself permission to be nervous, and to make mistakes. Remember that your value as a person has nothing to do with your ability to speak in public. Simply recover gracefully, and carry on.
  4. You can even…..make a mistake intentionally, and then correct it with an apology that shows you know everyone makes mistakes, and it’s okay to do so.  If that idea gives you chills, try this:  memorize the first couple of lines of your speech.  Knowing that you have your opening down cold often will jump start you, and from there, you will just naturally roll through the rest of your (well-practised) points.
  5. Admit that you’re nervous, and make it work for you. If you admit it to yourself, just recognize that that rush of adrenaline equals energy, and you can transform that energy into enthusiasm and charisma. If you admit it to your audience, they will identify with you, and begin rooting for you.  They will be pre-disposed to accept your message, because everyone identifies with the underdog, and you’ll relax because you know they’re not expecting a letter-perfect delivery.  And that’s when you’re more likely to give them one.
  6. Speak to one person at a time. Some people find it helpful, when looking out over a crowded room, to focus on one person and direct their remarks to them. If you happen to know that one person, even better, but if not, you can find a friendly face and focus solely on him or her.
  7. It’s an old chestnut but true: posture counts.  Stand up straight, shoulders back, smile and don’t forget to breathe.  Your body will fool your own brain into feeling more confident.

Mark Twain said it well:  There are two types of speakers.  Those who get nervous and those who are liars.  So take comfort in the fact that you are in good company!