How To Stay Cool When Giving A Speech

Sooner or later, as a business owner, you will be asked to give a speech—be it at a Rotary luncheon or at your local Chamber of Commerce event. 

Does that make you scared?  You are not alone—universally, public speaking frightens many people. Some research shows that most people have a greater fear of public speaking (glossophobia) than even death (necrophobia)!

While you may feel completely at ease talking one-on-one or even to a small group, standing before a large crowd can unnerve even the most extroverted of artisans. 

What can you do to calm your jitters—or even your sheer terror—of giving a speech?   Here’s how:

Admit You are Afraid

It can be embarrassing—even to yourself—to be afraid of giving a speech.  After all, you are an adult and what is the worst that can happen?  It is good to admit to yourself that you are afraid, that it’s okay to be afraid, and also to think about what exactly you are afraid of.  Is it that people will be staring at you? Or you might lose your train of thought? Or you might lose your notes, or trip over your feet?  Take time to write down exactly what your worse fears are about giving a speech.

Prepare

Based on each fear you list, think about how you can prepare for the worst.  For example, if you are afraid that you won’t know what to say, or lose your train of thought, write your speech (or the points you want to cover) all on 3x5 index cards.  “It may feel like you are giving a book report in 4th grade, but it will keep you on track and focused,” says Jacqueline Wolven, a small business marketing consultant and strategist with Moxie Works (www.moxieworks.com).

Take the Mystery Out

Visit the place where you’ll be giving the speech.  You can even sit in a few chairs where your guests will be seated in the room.  “The more you take the ‘mystery’ out of what to expect, the less nervous you will be,” says Mark Grimm, a professional speaker and author of Everyone Can be a Dynamic Speaker: Yes, I Mean You!  This means also taking the mystery out of your audience.  Find out who you will be speaking to by researching the group that will be listening to your speech.  You can easily do this by asking the person who asked you to speak in the first place: Will the audience be students, professionals, mostly men or women? Ask what the audience want to learn from you and why.  This will give you a clearer idea of what you will talk about.

Practice

The more you rehearse, the more confident you will become.  Skip the mirror and practice in front of family or friends and ask for feedback (or take a camcorder and film yourself). Keep your tone conversational, as if you are talking to one person rather than a crowd of a hundred.  “Never simply read the text,” suggests Barry Maher (www.barrymaher.com) an author and professional speaker who has appeared on NBC Nightly News and CNBC. “Speak from notes, glancing down when necessary, and then looking up to make eye contact with the audience member, holding each person’s glance for an entire thought then moving on to continue carrying the conversation with another individual (in the audience),” says Maher.

Don’t Let Them See You Sweat

While many people do this before a speech, don’t make the mistake of telling your audience you are nervous, says professional speaker Steve Siebold (www.speakerstevesiebold.com). “No matter how hard your heart is beating or how much you sweat, no one in the audience can hear or see it unless you tell them. Calling attention to nervousness is a distraction that minimizes your message,” says Siebold.  Maher adds not to worry about little vestigial nervousness. “Use that nervousness to make your presentation more lively. As a professional speaker, I get worried if I'm not a little nervous. I'll actually try to make myself a little tense to get my energy level up,” says Maher.

Talk to People Before the Speech

It helps to ease the jitters if you connect with some members of your audience before the speech so that you are not talking to a roomful of strangers.  Greet people, shake their hands, make small talk.  You’ll feel like you have some friendly faces in the audience.

Don’t Think of it as a “Speech”

Think of your talk as a “conversation” not a “presentation,” says Michael Souveroff, presentation skills consultant and owner of Natural Speech Coaching (www.naturalspeechcoaching.com). “Delivering your speech as if you're talking to one person as opposed to many can be very freeing, and thus relaxing,” says Souveroff.

Stay Grounded in the Moment

Souveroff also notes that it helps to focus only on the segment of the speech you are talking about at the moment.  “By staying grounded ‘in the moment’ or the ‘here and now’ the fear of thinking, ‘My God, I’ve got 45 minutes to get through how will I ever do it?’ can be dissipated,” he says.

Focus on Your Audience, Not Yourself

Public speaking coach and presentation specialist Debbie Fay says that every audience member is like every 15 year old you have ever known: they only care about themselves.  “You’re shaking, sweating? They could care less.  In fact, they don’t even notice it because its got nothing to do with them and why they’ve come.  Remember that! Focus on them and your message to them, not on yourself.  It will make you way less nervous,” says Fay, who is founder of Bespeak Presentation Solutions.  www.bespeakpresentations.com

Lastly, Patricia Johnson, a writer who has given many presentations, says that the best advice she has ever received about giving speeches it to practice it six times before your presentation.  She adds that the common advice to visualize the audience in their underwear has never helped ease her jitters.  But she does have one recommendation before walking on stage: “Men should check their zipper; women, their bra straps.”

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Article Author:  Marcia Passos Duffy

MARCIA PASSOS DUFFY (www.backporchpublishing.com) is a freelance business writer based in New Hampshire and is a member of the state’s artisan and business organization, NH Made.  Marcia’s articles have appeared on Yahoo Finance, CNBC, Bankrate.com, NFIB.com, Smart Business Magazine, The New York Times Lifewire, The Weather Channel, among others; she is the author of the book, Be Your Own Boss. She is also the publisher and editor of Our Local Table magazine (www.localtablemonadnock.com) and The Heart of New England magazine (www.theheartofnewengland.com).  Marcia wrote this feature article exclusively for Debbie May.com (www.DebbieMay.com), an organization dedicated to helping small businesses succeed.