Nervousness, my old friend: 4 tips to handle it



I believe there are two central aspects to good presentation skills: the know-how and the dare-to.

The know-how is the theoretical knowledge – starting with “it’s good to start the speech with a joke” or “you shouldn’t cross your arms”, all the way to more refined ones like “look at the audience member’s foreheads to avoid getting confused.” This is something you can read about and learn. But the dare-to is the confidence that allows you to stand firmly in front of a number of people and deliver a speech they will remember. It is also the trust in yourself that you will do well, that you are able to improvise if you forget your text and that they will indeed laugh at your joke.

Nervous? Scared? Welcome to the club!

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The fear and nervousness that we feel when speaking before an audience are completely normal and they have been around for millions of years. Back in the days of our ancestors, survival largely depended on being a part of the group. A group could defend itself better against wild animals and other groups as well as hunt more successfully and share resources. In other words, what others thought of you was a matter of life and death and throughout millennia we developed an imperative desire to be liked by others.

When you stand up to speak before a group of people, there is a goal you want to reach – you want to teach them something, motivate them to take an action or simply make them laugh – but you are also aware that there is a risk. You know that what you are going to say and, by extension, you, is going to be evaluated. There is a risk that they might not like what you say. That doesn’t only mean that you you might get a bad note at school, that your customer won’t buy your product, that you won’t win that girl or won’t get a promotion, but you are also putting your reputation at stake – they might not like you afterwards. And whether you want it or not, this makes you nervous. But it’s not only you, everyone lacks this confidence at first. And what’s worse, you never completely get rid of this feeling! Personally, I’m still a little nervous even when I’m ordering a pizza on the phone. However, you do learn how to handle it

Let’s handle this. 

1st of all, there is no way around good preparation. If you want to make a good appearance, you have to invest enough time in writing your speech, learning it and practising it. What amount of time is enough? Whatever amount it takes to come to the point where you are impressed by your own speech. Even if it’s a lot of time, don’t worry, because this is going to be your basis and as you learn and gain experience, the time you need for preparation decreases.

2nd of all, convince yourselfAre you the right person to deliver this speech? Can you do it? If you don’t think that the answer is yes, neither will the audience. Find arguments to persuade yourself that you got this. You have practised enough, you are familiar with the topic, you have a charming smile, you have a pleasant voice… Whatever it is, give yourself a pat on the shoulder and tell yourself how great you are. Trust yourself, you are.

3rd of all, know that (in most cases) the audience is on your side. They gave you their time and their attention, hence they would like a good speech. This means – they want you to do well! You and the audience are a team, so don’t fear the pressure from them, but go on and try your absolute best; find ways to work with them and they will appreciate it more than you think.

4th and final of all, accept the nervousness. Tell Mr. Nervousness that you’re fine with him. If he isn’t fine with you, he can freely go anywhere he likes. If Mr. Nervousness decides to stay, see how you two can make the best of the whole thing.

Basically, it’s like this: You’re almost always going to be nervous at the start of a speech. Your gestures will be little restricted, your voice slightly shaky and your breath somewhat short. But even as you speak, know that it will go away in a minute or two. Just hold on and perform as you had practised at home. Soon you’ll see you got this under control, or even better, that you’re doing quite good. And then just relax, speak and enjoy.

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