How to Control Your Nerves when Speaking in Public
Does the very thought of standing before an audience cause you to break out in a sweat, for your legs to shake, your stomach to churn and your mind to go blank? Don't worry! This is a normal reaction for nearly every person on earth when they are asked to speak in public.
How can you control your nerves so that you are able to speak to an audience no matter how large or small? Firstly note that I did not say 'how to overcome your nerves or how not to have any nerves'. Being nervous is natural and we must be realistic that even the most experienced and proficient speakers can be nervous. This is never a bad thing because being nervous will prevent you from becoming complacent, nerves will keep you sharp and help you focus on doing a good job.
Here are some tips to help you to take control of your nerves and enjoy public speaking.
When ever you have a talk to give make sure that you are well prepared. Know your material and understand every aspect of it even on matters that you are not necessarily going to talk about. Presumably you are giving the talk because you know more about the subject than your audience and therefore you must display confidence. A lack of preparation can leave you feeling nervous before you start so do not skimp on getting the knowledge right.
Once you have prepared what you are going to say you need to practice it. When you practice imagine that you are at the actual venue and that you have an audience if front of you. Some people find it helpful to practice before a mirror. If it helps once you are ready to deliver your talk deliver it to some friends or family members to give you that real audience feel. As you practice be sure to correct any errors that you have noticed or be prepared to lengthen or shorten the talk as required.
Proper controlled breathing will help you be in control of your nerves. Take deep breaths and breathe out slowly. Practice breathing deeply in right to the bottom of your lungs and count slowly as you breathe out, gradually increasing the amount that you can count. Do this every day and you will find this really helpful in speaking.
Do not try to memorize a talk as if you forget a word or sentence you will find that you may lose control and disaster will strike. It is far better to have key thoughts and ideas only. Have a few brief notes to remind you what you want to talk about rather than individual words to use. This will also sound far more natural to your audience and as you have prepared your subject well you will have no difficulty in talking about it. You may find it helpful though to have the first sentence of two of your talk written down just to get you off the starting blocks, however don't read them just look at them before you speak.
Smile! Always, unless you are talking on something very sombre smile at the audience. They will usually smile back and this relaxes you.
When you are likely to be nervous design your introduction so that you can speak slowly and in a relaxed way. If you start off fast it can encourage your nerves to rise up and you may continue speaking too fast! Use slow deliberate expressions with some good pauses for effect.
Nervous speakers often believe that if they don't look at the audience they will be more relaxed. This is a myth! Find a friendly face and look at that person for just a sentence of two and then move on to another working your way all around the audience. Don't stare at anyone or look for too long as that may make them feel uncomfortable. Always believe that you are only speaking to one person at a time. Even if there are hundreds in attendance your talk should be to each individual and you will find that your audience will be more drawn to you and you in turn will be more relaxed as it will be like speaking to one friend at a time.
A good technique to use is to gesture to express yourself and enhance your talk. Gesturing will also help you to relax so do practice gestures so that they become natural and move your body a little to help you feel that your muscles are not tight.
Just do it!
You will never control your nerves or become a good public speaker unless you do it! When you have the opportunity to speak take advantage and do so. In the meantime why not learn how to become a good speaker by attending a speakers course and reading books on the subject. With good coaching, encouragement and practice you will find that you are able to speak to an audience and control your nerves.