How to Deal with Nerves Before and During a Speech

Oct 30, 2023

Public speaking ranks among the most common fears people grapple with. It's a universal dread that can stir up anxiety, sweaty palms, and pounding hearts. The fear of standing in front of an audience with all eyes on you can be daunting indeed.

But why is it so important to address these nerves? Simply put, public speaking is integral to many professional and personal situations. Overcoming this fear, thus, can open doors to numerous opportunities and elevate your confidence to new heights.

This blog aims to provide a comprehensive guide on dealing with nerves before and during a speech. We'll delve into understanding the roots of public speaking anxiety, explore practical strategies to overcome nerves, and discuss the importance and benefits of seeking professional help.

So, buckle up, and let's embark on this journey towards becoming a more confident, composed, and compelling speaker.

 

Key Takeaways:

  • Understanding the root causes of nerves is critical to conquering public speaking anxiety.
  • Correct methods enhance a speaker's clarity, control, and confidence during delivery.
  • Certain practical steps taken before approaching the podium can pave the way for a successful speech.

 

Table of Contents

  1. Understanding the Fear of Public Speaking
  2. Preparation is Key
  3. Breathing and Relaxation Techniques
  4. Positive Self-Talk and Visualization
  5. Physical Warm-Up and Body Language
  6. Connecting with Your Audience
  7. Handling Unexpected Situations
  8. Practical Tips for the Day of the Speech
  9. Post-Speech Reflection
  10. Seeking Professional Help if Needed
  11. From Jitters to Joy

 

1. Understanding the Fear of Public Speaking

Public speaking fear, often termed glossophobia, is a common form of anxiety that involves a sense of dread or apprehension when speaking in front of an audience. This fear can manifest in various forms - from mild nervousness to debilitating fear and panic.

 

The Underlying Causes of Speech Anxiety

Before we delve into the strategies to overcome public speaking anxiety, it's important to understand its root causes. Identifying these triggers can help you develop a better approach to managing your fears and improving your performance. Here are some of the most common reasons behind speech anxiety:

  • Fear of Judgement: This is perhaps the most pervasive cause of speech anxiety. According to a study, approximately 75% of individuals with public speaking anxiety fear being judged or criticized by others. This fear of judgment can manifest in various forms, such as the fear of forgetting what to say, sounding unintelligent, or not meeting the expectations of the audience. It's a universal concern that spans across different demographics, from students to professionals.
  • Lack of Experience: If you're not accustomed to speaking in front of an audience, the unfamiliarity of the situation can cause anxiety. In fact, about 50% of students reported that their lack of confidence, which can be directly linked to lack of experience, was the reason for their anxiety during public speaking. The more exposure you have to public speaking, the less intimidating it becomes.
  • Past Negative Experiences: Previous unsuccessful or embarrassing experiences during public speaking can lead to a fear of repetition. An example would be if you had an uncomfortable or unsuccessful experience while speaking in public. This memory, vivid and unpleasant, sticks with you. Preparing to deliver a presentation can trigger old fears. You worry about repeating those past mistakes, and the anxiety begins to creep in. This scenario demonstrates how past negative experiences can significantly contribute to speech anxiety. Overcoming such fear often requires confronting these past experiences and working through them.
  • Insufficient Preparation: Picture this - you're on stage, ill-prepared for your presentation. You stumble over words and forget key points. It's a nightmare. Contrast this with another time when you prepared thoroughly. You spoke confidently, and the crowd was impressed. This shows how preparation can make or break your speech and influence your level of anxiety.

 

Embrace the Butterflies: Normalizing Nervousness

Nervousness is a typical response when faced with public speaking scenarios. It's a universal experience that signifies our body's response to perceived stress. Public speaking tends to activate this stress response.

However, it's important to note that nervousness doesn't necessarily have to be detrimental. This energy can be redirected towards enhancing the delivery of the speech, adding elements of passion and dynamism. Instead of attempting to suppress these feelings, acknowledging them as normal and using them constructively can be beneficial.

Even seasoned public speakers have experienced these feelings in their initial stages. Hence, it's essential to remember that nervousness is a shared experience, not a solitary one.

 

2. Preparation is Key

There's a famous saying, "Success is where preparation and opportunity meet." Nowhere is this truer than in public speaking.

Preparation can be the difference between a speech that sinks and one that soars. It can transform nervous energy into confident delivery, turning a daunting task into an enjoyable experience.

When you're well-prepared, you know your material inside out. And when you know your material, you can focus on how to deliver it effectively rather than worrying about what to say next.

 

Research and Expertise

Any great speech begins long before the speaker steps onto the stage. It starts with thorough research and a deep understanding of the topic at hand. You need to know your subject matter like the back of your hand to connect with your audience, answer their questions, and anticipate their concerns.

Research is more than just gathering facts. It's about understanding the nuances of the topic, exploring different perspectives, and forming a well-rounded view.

When you're well-versed in your topic, you speak with authority. You command respect. And most importantly, you instill trust in your audience.

So, dive deep into your topic. Become an expert. It's the secret ingredient that will give your speech its flavor, its substance, and its impact.

 

Effective Speech Structure

An effective speech is like a well-built house - it needs a sturdy structure. A well-structured speech not only helps you as the speaker to stay on track but also makes it easier for your audience to follow your thoughts and understand your message.

Here are some tips for structuring your speech effectively:

  • Start with a Strong Opening: Grab your audience's attention from the get-go with a compelling introduction. This could be a surprising fact, a thought-provoking question, or a personal anecdote.
  • Define Your Main Points: Clearly outline 2-3 main points you want to make in your speech. This gives your address a clear direction.
  • Support Each Point: Back each point with evidence, examples, or anecdotes. This strengthens your argument and makes your speech more engaging.
  • Use Transitions: Smooth transitions between points help maintain the flow of your speech and keep your audience engaged.
  • Summarize and Reinforce: Summarize your main points towards the end of your speech to reinforce your message.
  • End with a Bang: Conclude with a memorable statement, call to action, or a thought-provoking question that leaves a lasting impression on your audience.

 

Power Rehearsal

Rehearsing your speech multiple times is like running a trial before the big race. It lets you familiarize yourself with your speech's flow, adjust your timing, and smooth out any issues.

The more you rehearse, the more comfortable you become with your material. This familiarity breeds confidence, which is key to overcoming nerves.

Rehearsing isn't just about reciting your speech verbatim. It's about practicing your delivery - your tone, pace, and body language. It's about understanding which parts of your address need emphasis and which require a pause for effect.

By rehearsing multiple times, you're not just memorizing your speech. You're mastering it. Once you've championed your address, delivering it becomes second nature, allowing you to focus on connecting with your audience rather than worrying about what comes next.

 

Familiarity with the Venue and Equipment

Familiarizing yourself with the venue and equipment beforehand can save you from such unsettling experiences. Knowing the ins and outs of your environment allows you to navigate it effortlessly, reducing unexpected hiccups and boosting your confidence.

It helps you understand where to project your voice, how to use the microphone or presentation clicker, and where to direct your gaze or gestures. In this way, the unfamiliar becomes familiar, transforming a potential obstacle into a stepping stone for success.

 

3. Breathing and Relaxation Techniques

Nerves can be a formidable adversary for public speakers. But breathing and relaxation techniques are a secret weapon within everyone's reach. These simple yet effective tools can help regulate your heart rate, calm your mind, and bring a newfound sense of control and confidence to your performance.

 

Deep Breathing Exercises

Deep breathing exercises are like a soothing balm for your jittery nerves. They help slow down your heart rate, reduce stress, and increase oxygen flow to your brain. For public speakers, this means being able to deliver your speech with more clarity, control, and confidence. As you master deep breathing, you'll find it a powerful tool in your public speaking toolkit, helping you stay calm, composed, and ready to captivate your audience.

Here are three deep breathing exercises that you can try:

  1. Box Breathing: Inhale slowly for a count of four, hold your breath for another count of four, exhale for a count of four, and then wait for another count of four before taking your next breath. This technique helps to slow your breathing rate and calm your mind.
  2. Belly Breathing: Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Take a deep breath through your nose, allowing your stomach to push your hand out. Exhale through your mouth, feeling your belly fall. This exercise promotes full oxygen exchange, which can slow your heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure.
  3. 4-7-8 Breathing: Inhale quietly through your nose for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of seven, and then exhale forcefully through your mouth for a count of eight. This technique is particularly effective in reducing anxiety and helping you to relax.

 

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation involves tensing and then relaxing each muscle group. This technique not only helps in relieving physical tension but also diverts your attention away from any anxious thoughts. For public speakers, this means stepping onto the stage with a relaxed body and mind, ready to engage the audience with full focus and energy.

 

Visualization Techniques

Visualization techniques allow you to imagine yourself delivering a successful speech. By picturing this positive outcome, you're conditioning your mind to associate public speaking with success rather than fear. This boosts your confidence and motivates you to perform at your best, turning the daunting task of public speaking into an exciting opportunity to shine.

 

Mindfulness and Meditation

Mindfulness and meditation are about being present in the moment, free from distractions. For public speakers, these practices can help manage nerves by encouraging a focus on the here and now rather than worrying about potential mistakes or audience reactions. By incorporating mindfulness and meditation into your preparation routine, you can learn to harness your nerves, transforming them into a source of energy and passion for your speech.

 

4. Positive Self-Talk and Visualization

In public speaking, your biggest ally or adversary is often your mind. Positive self-talk and visualization are powerful tools that can help shape your mindset, boost your confidence, and enhance your performance on stage.

 

Overcoming Negative Thoughts

Negative thoughts can be like unwelcome guests in your mind, sowing seeds of doubt and fear. But remember, you have the power to show them the door. By consciously replacing negative thoughts with positive ones, you can change your mental narrative, empowering yourself to deliver a more confident and engaging speech. This shift in mindset can significantly reduce anxiety and improve your overall presentation skills.

Here are three ways to overcome negative thoughts:

  1. Challenge negative thoughts: Question their validity and replace them with positive affirmations.
  2. Surround yourself with positivity: Interact with positive people, read inspiring books, and consume uplifting content.
  3. Talk to someone: Expressing your thoughts and feelings to someone who listens empathetically can validate your emotions. This process can help you discuss what's bothering you and serve as an emotional release.

 

Affirmations for Confidence

Affirmations are powerful statements that can help you overcome self-doubt and reinforce a positive belief in your abilities. Repeating these affirmations regularly can help you build confidence and maintain a positive mindset. They remind you of your capabilities, allowing you to focus on your strengths rather than your fears.

 

Visualizing a Successful Speech

Visualization is a potent tool that can help you prepare for your speech by mentally rehearsing it. By picturing yourself delivering a successful speech, you're training your brain to associate public speaking with positive outcomes. This not only boosts your confidence but also helps you to perform better on the actual day.

 

The Power of a Growth Mindset

A growth mindset is the belief that abilities and intelligence can be developed through dedication and hard work. It's about embracing challenges, persisting in the face of setbacks, and viewing effort as the path to mastery.

In the context of public speaking, a growth mindset can empower you to view nerves as natural, feedback as valuable, and every speaking opportunity as a chance to learn and grow. This perspective can be compelling, transforming your mindset from fearing public speaking to embracing it as a journey of continuous improvement.

 

5. Physical Warm-Up and Body Language

Think of your body as your secret weapon for public speaking. Warming up physically isn't just about shaking off those jitters - it's about getting yourself ready to shine.

And the way you hold yourself? That's your silent conversation with the audience. It's like your body's saying, "Hey, I've got something worth listening to."

So, loosen up a bit before you step up to that podium. Stretch, move around, get your blood flowing.

And when you're on stage, remember to let your body speak, too. Trust me, your audience will notice.

 

Power Poses and Confident Body Language

Poses and body language are non-verbal cues that scream 'confidence.' They're about standing tall, taking up space, and exuding an aura of self-assuredness. When you adopt these postures, you not only communicate confidence to others but also stimulate your own sense of confidence in your mind.

Here are some examples of power poses and confident body language:

  • The Superman Pose: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, hands on hips, chest out, and chin up.
  • The Victory Pose: Raise your arms overhead in a V shape, as if you've just won a race.
  • Open Posture: Stand with your shoulders back, chest open, and arms uncrossed.
  • Steepling: Press the fingertips of both hands together to form a steeple-like shape. This gesture is often associated with confidence and authority.

 

Avoiding Nervous Gestures

Nervous gestures, such as fidgeting, pacing, or playing with a pen, can distract your audience. They also signal anxiety, which can undermine the confidence you're trying to project. You can present a more poised and composed image by becoming aware of and consciously avoiding these habits.

 

Maintaining Eye Contact

Eye contact is a powerful tool in public speaking. It helps establish a connection with your audience and conveys sincerity and confidence. However, it should be done correctly.

Instead of sweeping your gaze over the crowd, try to make eye contact with individuals for a few seconds at a time. This creates a sense of personal connection and keeps your audience engaged.

 

6. Connecting with Your Audience

When it comes to public speaking, your audience is vital. They're not just passive listeners - they're part of your performance. Creating a connection with your audience can turn a good speech into a great one. It's about more than just delivering your message; it's about creating a shared experience that resonates with them.

 

Building Rapport with Your Audience

Establishing rapport with your audience is like building a bridge for your message to cross over. It's about developing a mutual understanding and trust. When you have a connection, your audience is more likely to engage with your speech, understand your point of view, and remember your message.

Here are some ways to build that bridge:

  • Remembering that they're on your side: Your audience wants you to succeed. They're there to hear what you have to say. So think of them as friends, not foes. This mindset can help ease nerves and create a more positive atmosphere.
  • Interacting when appropriate: Don't just talk at your audience; talk with them. Ask questions, invite comments, or use interactive elements like polls or quizzes. This makes your speech more engaging and helps the audience feel involved.
  • Focusing on your message, not yourself: Getting self-conscious when you're in the spotlight is easy. But remember, it's not about you - it's about your message. Keep your focus on the value you're providing to your audience. This can help you feel less nervous and ensure your speech is audience-centric.

 

7. Handling Unexpected Situations

Public speaking is like a live performance - it's unpredictable. Despite your best preparations, unexpected situations can and do occur. How you handle these curveballs can make the difference between a forgettable speech and one that leaves a lasting impact. So, let's tackle these tricky situations head-on.

 

Dealing with Technical Glitches

In our digital age, technical glitches during a presentation are not uncommon. They can be frustrating and disruptive, but they don't have to derail your speech.

Here are three ways to deal with them:

  1. Preparation: Run a tech check before you start. Ensure your presentation, microphone, and any other tech you use work correctly.
  2. Backup Plan: Have a backup ready to go. This could be a printed copy of your presentation or having your slideshow saved on multiple devices.
  3. Stay Calm: If a glitch occurs, take a deep breath. Apologize to your audience, fix the issue if you can, or move on without it if you can't.

 

Handling Hecklers or Difficult Questions

Speaking to an audience isn't always a one-way street. Sometimes, you might encounter hecklers or challenging questions.

Here's how to handle them:

  • Stay Professional: Don't let hecklers get under your skin. Keep your cool and stay professional.
  • Redirect: If you get a difficult question, don't panic. If you don't know the answer, it's okay to say so. You can also redirect the question back to the audience to stimulate discussion.
  • Control the Room: Remember, you're in control. You can choose to address heckling or ignore it, depending on what feels suitable for the situation.

 

Staying Composed Under Pressure

Public speaking can feel like a high-pressure situation. However, staying composed under pressure is vital for delivering a successful speech.

Here are some tips:

  • Breathe: When we're nervous, our breathing can become shallow. Take deep, calming breaths to steady your nerves.
  • Positive Self-Talk: Remind yourself that you're prepared and capable. A little self-encouragement goes a long way.
  • Focus on Your Message: Instead of worrying about what could go wrong, focus on what you're there to do: deliver your message.

 

The Art of Adaptability: Why It Matters

Adaptability in public speaking is like a secret superpower. It's the ability to think on your feet, adjust your sails when the wind changes direction, and keep going even when things don't go according to plan.

It's important because no matter how much you prepare, you can't predict everything. Maybe your PowerPoint presentation won't load, or perhaps a question from the audience throws you off your game. That's when adaptability comes into play.

Being adaptable allows you to navigate unexpected situations with grace and poise. It shows your audience that you're not just a speaker who can recite a well-rehearsed script but a confident communicator who can handle whatever comes your way.

It turns obstacles into opportunities to showcase your resilience and resourcefulness. And in the end, it's often the moments of spontaneity and genuine human connection that your audience will remember the most.

 

8. Practical Tips for the Day of the Speech

The day of your speech has arrived. You've prepared and practiced, and now it's game time.

But before you step up to the podium, there are a few practical things you can do to set yourself up for success. Let's dive into these day-of-the-speech tips to help you shine on stage.

 

Punctuality and Preparedness

There's a certain peace of mind that comes with being early. Arriving before your audience allows you to familiarize yourself with the venue, check out the stage, and get a feel for the room. It gives you time to settle in, shake off any travel stress, and shift your focus to the task.

Checking your equipment is equally crucial. Whether it's your laptop, projector, microphone, or other tech tools, ensuring they work correctly can save you from last-minute hiccups. This helps you avoid technical glitches during your speech and boosts your confidence, knowing everything is set up for success.

 

Dress to Impress

The way you dress can significantly influence your confidence level. Wearing something that makes you feel comfortable and confident can enhance your performance on stage. It's not about being flashy; it's about feeling good in your skin and what you're wearing.

Remember, your outfit is part of your impression on your audience. Dressing appropriately shows respect for your audience and the occasion. It communicates that you take your role seriously and helps establish your credibility even before you start speaking.

 

Find a Quiet Space for Last-Minute Preparation

Before you step on stage, finding a quiet space for last-minute preparation can be invaluable. This isn't about cramming in more practice; it's about gathering your thoughts and centering yourself.

In this quiet space, you can visualize your speech one last time, focus on breathing, or go through positive affirmations. It's your backstage ritual to calm your nerves, boost your confidence, and get into the right mindset to deliver a powerful speech.

 

Avoid Excessive Caffeine or Sugar

While it might be tempting to load up on caffeine or sugar for an energy boost, avoiding excessive amounts on the day of your speech is best. Sure, a cup of coffee or a small sweet treat won't hurt, but going overboard can lead to jitteriness, rapid heartbeat, or a sugar crash—all things you don't want to deal with when you're about to speak.

Instead, opt for balanced meals and snacks that provide steady energy. Stay hydrated, too. Remember, caring for your body is as important as preparing your speech. Feeling good physically makes you more likely to perform well on stage.

 

9. Post-Speech Reflection

Once the applause dies down and you step off the stage, your journey as a speaker isn't over. In fact, a vital part of the process begins now - the post-speech reflection. This is your chance to evaluate your performance, celebrate your successes, learn from your mistakes, and plan to improve your skills for future speeches.

 

Analyzing Your Performance Objectively

Reflection starts with an objective analysis of your performance. This isn't about being hard on yourself; it's about understanding what went well and what didn't. If possible, listen to a recording of your speech or consider feedback from trusted sources.

In this analysis, pay attention to both your content and delivery. Did your message resonate with the audience? Were there moments where you stumbled or lost your train of thought? How was your body language and voice modulation?

By assessing these elements objectively, you can identify areas for improvement and work on them for your following speech.

 

Celebrating Successes and Learning from Mistakes

Every speech you deliver has two outcomes - successes to celebrate and mistakes to learn from. Both are equally important in your growth as a public speaker.

Celebrate your successes, no matter how small. Did you manage to connect with the audience? Did your jokes get a laugh? Did you finish within the allotted time? These victories boost your confidence and motivate you to keep improving.

As for mistakes, remember that they're not failures but learning opportunities. Did you forget a part of your speech? Did a joke fall flat? Did you fumble with your slides? Each instance is a lesson that helps you prepare better for your following speech.

 

Continuously Improving Your Public Speaking Skills

Improving your public speaking skills is a journey, not a destination. Every speech is a stepping stone towards becoming a more confident and effective speaker.

Here are three tips to help you on this journey:

  1. Practice Regularly: The more you speak, the better you get. Look for opportunities to practice, whether at work, in a speaking club, or even in everyday conversations.
  2. Seek Feedback: Constructive feedback is a powerful tool for improvement. Don't shy away from it. Seek it actively from mentors, peers, or audience members.
  3. Keep Learning: Public speaking is a skill that can continually be honed. Attend workshops, read books, watch TED talks - keep absorbing new techniques and ideas to enrich your speaking style.

 

10. Seeking Professional Help if Needed

Public speaking anxiety is common and completely normal. But when this anxiety becomes debilitating—when it starts to affect your personal or professional life—it's time to consider seeking professional help. Remember, there's no shame in reaching out. In fact, doing so can be a game-changer in your public speaking journey.

 

When Speech Anxiety Becomes Debilitating

Speech anxiety becomes debilitating when it's so intense that it interferes with your ability to perform or even take up speaking opportunities. This could manifest as severe physical symptoms like nausea, excessive sweating, or palpitations. Or it might show up as extreme avoidance behavior, where you turn down opportunities to speak out of fear.

If you're experiencing such intense anxiety, it's essential to recognize that this isn't just 'nerves.' This could be a form of social anxiety disorder, a fear of public speaking. And just like any other anxiety disorder, it's crucial to seek professional help to manage it effectively.

 

The Role of Therapists, Speech Coaches, or Support Groups

Therapists, speech coaches, and support groups each play a unique role in helping you overcome debilitating speech anxiety.

A therapist specializing in cognitive-behavioral therapy can help you understand the root cause of your anxiety and equip you with strategies to manage it. They can guide you through exposure exercises, where you gradually face your fear in a safe, controlled way.

Speech coaches, on the other hand, focus more on the practical aspects of public speaking. They can help you improve your delivery, body language, and voice modulation and offer personalized feedback to boost your confidence.

Support groups provide a safe space to share your experiences and learn from others facing the same challenges. Knowing you're not alone in your struggle can be incredibly reassuring and empowering.

 

Breaking the Stigma

In our society, there's often a stigma attached to seeking help for mental health issues, including speech anxiety. But it's important to understand that asking for help isn't a sign of weakness—it's a sign of strength. It shows that you're taking charge of your problem and making a proactive decision to overcome it.

Remember, public speaking is a skill, not an inherent talent. And just like any other skill, some people might need extra help to master it. So, if you're struggling with speech anxiety, don't let fear or shame hold you back from seeking the help you need. You deserve to speak confidently and share your ideas with the world; seeking assistance is another step towards that goal.

 

From Jitters to Joy

We've journeyed together through the various strategies to tackle nerves before and during a speech, from practical tips for the day of the speech to post-speech reflection. We've also discussed when to seek professional help and the importance of doing so without shame.

It's perfectly okay—and normal—to feel nervous when speaking in public. What matters is not letting these nerves hold you back. You can turn your public speaking jitters into joy with practice and perseverance.

Conquering your fear of public speaking has the power to transform you. It can boost your confidence, improve your communication skills, and open doors to new opportunities. So, embrace the challenge, step out of your comfort zone, and let your voice be heard. The world is waiting to hear what you have to say.