How to con­quer your pub­lic speak­ing nerves

Since 90% of how well you per­form as a speak­er is determ­ined before you reach your speak­ing space, it’s good idea to learn how to pre­pare.

For speak­ers, this means pre­pare your­self, your mes­sage and your speak­ing envir­on­ment.

It’s equally import­ant that nerves don’t get in the way of an excel­lent pub­lic appear­ance.

The Amer­ic­an writer, Mark Twain, used to say “There are two kinds of people in the world – those that are nervous at pub­lic speak­ing and those that are liars.”

Most people are nervous at speak­ing in pub­lic.

Nervous­ness is actu­ally a good thing. It’s that spurt of adren­al­in that makes your talk truly exhil­ar­at­ing.

If you’re not nervous, if your heart isn’t beat­ing a little faster, your present­a­tion or speech will be flat. 

The secret, how­ever, lies in learn­ing to con­trol your nerves. Don’t let nervous­ness con­trol you – learn to con­trol it, or as I prefer to say, man­age it. I also prefer to call it nervous energy.

The key to man­aging nervous energy is using the right breath­ing tech­nique – breath­ing from the dia­phragm. This is the single most import­ant thing you can do to con­trol nervous­ness, wherever you are speak­ing in pub­lic.

Sadly, breath­ing is some­thing we nev­er con­sider when we stand to speak, except when it’s gone. Breath­less­ness can be a huge prob­lem at the lectern. 

When we sleep, we breathe from the dia­phragm. When we are busy and stressed the breath rises higher, the heart rate faster and your neck can get tight and quite pain­ful.  It can get to the stage where we can’t think straight or even com­pletely blank out! 

Do you ever won­der when to take a breath in nor­mal con­ver­sa­tion? So why is it such a con­cern in pub­lic speak­ing?

Because we don’t allow ourselves to take a breath before we run out of air: we wait until we are totally spent and then we gasp for the next breath, increas­ing our ten­sion.

When I give a present­a­tion, I am nervous, but my audi­ence does not see or hear it because I am breath­ing– I’m using my dia­phragm to con­trol that nervous­ness. And I’m telling myself – breathe down towards the floor and breathe down – not up towards the shoulders and ears!

Dia­phrag­mat­ic breath­ing exer­cise

Learn to prac­tise dia­phrag­mat­ic breath­ing with this exer­cise.

Sit straight on a chair. Your back to the back of the chair.  Your shoulders should be squared but relaxed.

1. Place your right hand on your lower chest and left hand on your abdo­men.

2. Slowly inhale through your nose.

3. As you breathe in, your left hand should rise slightly. As you breathe out, it will fall in. There should be little or no move­ment in your right hand.

4. Keep your inhal­a­tions and exhal­a­tions of equal dur­a­tion. Your breath­ing should be long, slow, and reg­u­lar. It may take a little prac­tice for breath­ing to become reg­u­lar. Allow some uneven­ness in the begin­ning.

5. Prac­tise this four to five times. Rest and repeat. The breath­ing should be deep, slow and smooth. Try not to for­ce all of the air out of the lungs – let it be nat­ur­al and gentle. Keep the inhal­a­tion and exhal­a­tion of the same dur­a­tion. Prac­tice it for some time and allow the breath­ing pro­cess to fall into a rhythmic cycle.

You can find more pub­lic speak­ing advice in Sofia’s Speak­ing Tips ebook.

About the author
sofiaSofia Majew­ski
is a Can­ber­ra-based con­sult­ant who spe­cial­ises in con­tem­por­ary pub­lic speak­ing, and has coached at TEDx­Can­ber­ra since 2013. For more than 13 years she has helped speak­ers to find the right tone, breath­ing tech­nique and style to suc­cess­fully address con­fer­ences, com­mit­tees, pub­lic hear­ings or board­rooms. 

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