By: Lauren Broussard
Know Your Stuff
Whether you’re giving an update in a meeting, sharing a presentation on a research study, introducing yourself to a large group, talking about a new sales technique, or waxing poetic about the state of the global economy, the important thing is to know your material well enough so you’re not constantly searching your brain for new information while you’re speaking. If you’re already nervous and you also have no idea what you’re talking about, it will only amplify the nervousness.
If your chosen topic is you, then this is even better! No one knows your story better than you do, so own that. And if you’re asked to speak about something you don’t know about, you better do your research. The goal here is not to know everything, but to at least feel comfortable with the material. Try to know your material well enough to be able to teach it to a friend.
A study published by the American Psychological Society suggests that when you’re excited, you’re less likely to get overcome by nerves in public speaking. This is counter to the idea of convincing yourself to “calm down.” Before you start your presentation, try saying to yourself “I am so excited to be doing this.” Say this even if you can think of nothing you want to do less than giving this presentation. Say this a few times aloud and try to really feel it. I try to jump up and down a few times for good measure.
Power Pose It Out
Research suggests that standing in a “power pose” for a few minutes helps to calm our nerves by decreasing cortisol and increasing testosterone in our bodies. Try placing hands on your hips (or up in the air), standing tall, and taking up a lot of space. Think of channeling your inner “Wonder Woman” for two minutes. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy gives my favorite Ted Talk of all time on the topic. Watch it here, and read more about it here. I have done a power pose before giving toasts at weddings, giving presentations at conferences, or negotiating salary increases. Trick your body into thinking you’re totally confident, even if you’re not quite there yet.
Get By With a Little Help From Your Friends
Speaking of friends…ask them to practice with you before you give a
presentation that you’re nervous about. A good friend will give you constructive feedback both in presentation content and in technique. If you can’t find a friend, you can also record yourself when you practice. You would be surprised the things you notice about your speaking habits when you see it reflected in video.
A group like Toastmasters is also a great place to practice with a supportive group of people. My Toastmasters group became a safe space for me to get together with friends who all had a common goal. We went out to karaoke a lot, too!
Lastly, if you know a friend or friendly colleague will be in the audience during your presentation, look at them periodically throughout your talk. Seeing a friendly face will help quell your fears. If you ask an open-ended question to the audience and are afraid no one will answer right away, you can prep your friend beforehand with the question and ask them to respond. Once one person speaks up, this will usually encourage others in the audience to participate as well.
This possibly sounds counter-intuitive, but to help alleviate your fear of speaking, you HAVE to speak! The more you speak, and the more you realize you won’t collapse from the fear of it, the easier it will become. Reach for low-hanging fruit; for example, make a goal to say one thing at every other meeting you attend, no matter how small that thing is. Congratulate yourself when you accomplish this. When you feel comfortable there, you can start offering to lead small team meetings, or give updates to your team. These are typically lower pressure situations, which will give you more confidence when it’s time to speak to larger groups. The nervousness may not fully go away, but it doesn’t have to control you and keep you from speaking up.