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Mindset tips for overcoming nervousness in speaking [wisdom from Speaking Connections]

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Hayley

Director & Coach at Quiet Connections
Hayley shares her personal stories of feeling shy, socially anxious, ‘not good enough’ and fearfully avoiding the good things in life. Growing her confidence through coaching, gradually stretching her comfort zone and connecting with others, she now uses everything she has learned to help other people grow their confidence in her role as a coach. Hayley is passionate about connecting people with similar stories and creating safe, supportive spaces to make friends and try new things. Hayley dreams of a time when all of the strengths, skills and goodness in ‘quiet’ is recognised and appreciated as readily as being bold, gregarious, and comfortable in the spotlight is right now.
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At April’s Speaking Connections gathering, we spent some time sharing the valuable tips that our members are already using in overcoming nervousness in speaking. This is one of a two-part post sharing our members’ wisdom. Look out for our previous post passing on the gatherings practical tips.

Getting into the right frame of mind

What can you do to relax before an event? Or even during an event? Here are some of the techniques that have been helping our Speaking Connections members:

  • Recognising that some anxiety is normal (and it can be helpful!)
  • Listening to music – what special piece evokes confidence for you?
  • Exercising the night before or on the day if you can.
  • Clearing your mind using meditation or similar.
  • Visualising a successful outcome – what will it be like when you have achieved this?
  • Using balanced breathing exercises before your talk.
  • Knowing your audience is interested in what you have to say and they want you to do well.
  • Using a grounding routine e.g. holding onto something, fiddling with some jewellery or holding onto a paperclip and imagining sending any negative energy from you into that paperclip.
  • Using props when you can.
  • Having a glass of water to hand. Taking a sip of water can help you to pause and breathe, slow your speaking down and buy yourself some thinking time.
  • Breathing slowly and fully while you’re speaking. Even before you start, just stop, smile, and take a slow, deep breath before you begin to speak.

These techniques have proven to work for some people, and they may work for you too. Once you have identified what it is that helps you to feel less nervous and more confident, you’ll use it on a regular basis.

Reality checking our thoughts

It’s easy to make up stories about what other people think of us and it often isn’t a favourable image that we dream up. But, in reality, your assumptions about this are unlikely to be true to how the other person really perceives you. How could you possibly know what someone else is thinking? It’s nothing but mind-reading and fortune-telling. So bear this in mind if you’re someone who’s often worried about how you come across.

This was a very important lesson that Stacie learned when she recorded herself practising a talk at the first Speaking Connections gathering. She was surprised how well she had came across, despite the nervousness she felt. Stacie wrote all about it in this blog post.

Perhaps a simple video session of yourself speaking would be a great way to see what you actually look and sound like? You could do this just reading an excerpt from a paper. You may be surprised with what you see too.

Another great way to grow your awareness of how you come across is to gain gentle feedback from people watching your talk. Everyone who does a talk at the Speaking Connections gets a note from each member telling them what we really liked about the speech along with some friendly encouragement.

Making yourself comfortable

You’ll want to be as comfortable as possible when speaking. What you can do exactly will depend on the scenario, of course (you may not be able to turn up to that important job interview in jeans and a t-shirt!), but there’s always something you can do to put yourself at ease. A couple of examples from the group were:

Choosing whether you sit or stand to present

One person had a presentation to do in front of several business people. They were practicing a presentation for days, assuming they would be standing. When they got to their appointment, they were invited to sit. So they asked if it was ok to stand to present, saying it would help them to feel more confident. They knew that if they were standing, they would use more open body language and take up more space, just as they had been practising. This works so you feel less anxious, and you’re also seen as more confident too. If you must sit, just make sure that your posture is open and upright.

Using your environment

One lady spoke to a number of people at an event and shared how it threw her a little when she found there wasn’t anywhere to put her cue cards. Now her recommendation would be to arrive earlier to check out the environment before the speech so you know what to expect and you can make the adjustments you need to wherever it’s possible. (It’s always useful to have a good idea about what the situation will be like to ease nerves before the event. Most people will happily talk you through this or even let you see the venue first if you just ask.)

In contrast, another lady shared that they went to a university to talk to a class of students. They felt uncomfortable walking in and seeing everyone sat at their desks, ready to take notes as if she was about to deliver a lecture. She spotted some bean bags in the corner of the room and made herself comfortable, immediately relaxing and creating the more informal feel she was hoping for.

Focusing where you need to

Eye contact is important, yes, but for some this can feel a bit intimidating to begin with. A common tip is to imagine everyone you’re speaking to are in their underwear, but our people do not recommend that. Instead, try focusing on something just above your audience. Or, you can identify several points around the room and slowly move your focus to each point, giving the impression that you’re looking at your audience members.

Read next: Practical tips for overcoming nervousness in speaking [from the Speaking Connections]

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