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Practical tips for overcoming nervousness in speaking

Speaking Connections

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 next post passing on the gatherings mindset tips.

Practising and using prompts

One of the best ways to ease the anxiety of speaking is through strong preparation. If you have a talk to deliver, you might find it helpful to learn it through practising over and over again. Maybe you’ll write your speech out several times or use a voice recorder. You might practise in front of a mirror or even create a video of yourself talking. Imagine you have an audience watching you. Practise moving around in the space you’ll have available. Practise IN the space if you can. We all learn in different ways so do whatever is most helpful for you. But, don’t get hung up on learning your talk word for word. It’s normal to adjust your talk each time.

It’s often better to use cue cards instead of a script. Speaking in this way will help to free your eyes up from reading so that you are able to make better eye contact with your audience. Simple, well-written cue cards eliminate the panic that you might feel if you lose your spot when you’re reading. This is also a useful tip when making a phone call, helping you to keep on track and cover everything you need to.

If you’re heading off to a situation where you’ll be talking one to one with people, like a networking event, you can still prepare in advance. Think about questions that people might ask you and how you’ll respond. What might you want to ask other people? Memorise a few key questions.

Preparing for the unexpected

Sometimes despite our best efforts things just don’t work out the way we anticipated so it can be helpful to think about some of the most obvious situations that could crop up and have a sense of how we might deal with this. Maybe you get to the place you’re doing a talk, only to find that the equipment you planned to use for a Powerpoint presentation is broken. Would your talk make sense without the slides?

What if someone asks you a question and you don’t know how to answer it? What could you say to the person to give yourself some time to think about it? Maybe something like: “That’s an interesting question and I haven’t been asked that before. I’ll look into it and come back to you later.”

You can also prepare for questions to a certain degree. Imagine you’re the person who will be listening to you. From their perspective, what might they be interested to know about your topic? What might need clarifying? What wild card questions might you get? You could ask a friend to help you with this.

Playing to your strengths

Humour can be used as a way to connect with others. This comes naturally for some, but it doesn’t for a lot of us (particularly those that wouldn’t describe themselves as fast-thinking!). Perhaps having the odd quick joke written on a cue card can help your armoury, but it might be a better tactic to use the strengths and qualities that are unique to you. So it’s important that you become aware of your natural strengths. You can do this by observing your audience responses to your talk, using the feedback you’ve been given and asking others what they think your strengths are.

Then if you use humour well, include it wherever it’s appropriate. Maybe you’re a story-teller, and you can use this to connect with your listeners. Or perhaps you can paint a visual picture or rouse empathy in your audience. If you’re strengths lie in eliciting participation, then be sure to allow time for engagement.

Successful talks come in lots of different styles. For some, a lively performance bouncing around the stage feels right. For others, a calm, gentle and modest presentation will perfectly capture their listeners’ hearts and minds. Find what works for you and be true to yourself.

Speaking from the heart

We heard some excellent talks at the first Speaking Connections gathering. It was clear that those people were speaking from the heart and being sincere in what they were saying. Those listening felt a connection; they could really relate to the stories that were told because people were being real, honest and in, some ways, quite vulnerable and trusting. So, as you’re practising a talk, ask yourself if you’re leaving enough space for the words in your heart to speak too. One person explained that she had a radio interview and did minimal practising for it, so what she said came from her heart and she was very happy with her interview. This is a great thing to do when you know your subject well.

Moving on from mistakes

We’re all human and everyone makes mistakes. With this in mind, we must have self-compassion and expect less than perfection from ourselves. Almost everyone you speak to will remember being in a similar situation where they had to speak and finding it challenging. So they have an understanding of how you might feel in this moment. People want you to do well too. So, if you forget to properly introduce yourself and what you do before launching into your prepared talk, just say so. Fill in the blanks or check people are following. There are very few situations in life when it’s not ok to show some vulnerability and admit that you’re feeling nervous. Showing those nerves or making a mistake will only make you more relatable.

Recognising your successes

If nine things go well and one thing feels like a mistake, it can be a bit of an old habit to focus on the one thing that we believe went wrong and overlook what went well. Look back at your talk, like Stacie did with her video. Stacie felt that her talk was a completely different experience to the one that we had, it wasn’t until she watched it back that she realised that it was a huge success for her. What can you do to start noticing all of those things that go well?


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

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