Public Speaking Success: How to Relax Before a Speech

Public speaking
It’s five minutes before your talk begins. You’ve prepared a great speech, worked out all the issues and practiced it several times. But for some bizarre reason, you still feel a bit nervous. Is something wrong?

These feelings are perfectly normal – many seasoned speakers still feel a bit nervous before a big speech. It’s your mind’s way of reminding you that you’ve got something important coming up. Nervous energy is a good thing; it helps keep us on our toes.

A question I’m often asked is how to handle that nervous energy before a speech. There are a lot of suggestions out there as to ways to calm you nerves ranging from facial and body exercises to energy drinks to even aromatherapy. You may have to experiment to find what works best for you but here are my three favorite:

Listen to music that psyches you up:

Music can often change our emotional state in an instant so try to find something that puts you in a resourceful, positive or confident state. Music can also relax you and ease your nerves. Try listening to some of your favorite songs and compositions to see the affect they have on you and note how they make you feel. If a song makes you want to jump out of your seat and accomplish something, then it’s a good candidate for something to use to prepare yourself to speak.

If you have an MP3 player such as an iPod, you can pre-load it with music that puts you in the state you want to be in. It’s ideal to find multiple songs for each mood or emotion you’re trying to achieve – this will prevent you from getting tired of the same song over and over.

Visualize your success:

Successful athletes use this technique all the time. Whether it’s kicking a field goal to win the Super Bowl, knocking a ball out of the park to win the World Series or making that shot from half-court to win the championship – the athlete has seen it in his or her mind a million times before doing it in real life.

Imagine yourself walking up to the podium or on to the stage. See yourself moving in a confident manner and inspiring your audience. Watch them react to you as you’d expect them to – they laugh at your jokes and listen intently to your main points. Then envision the standing ovation that you’ll receive as you walk off the stage.

Focusing your energy on a positive result will increase your chances of success.

Remember the benefits:

You’ve been asked to speak for a reason. Maybe it’s to sell a product, collect a paycheck, get people excited about your cause, change the world or to inspire others. Visualize the results of your efforts – closing the sale, helping your cause or the energy you’ll create in the room.

Understanding the benefits of stepping outside of your comfort zone helps you see the value in your efforts.

So these are my favorite tips for calming one’s nerves before a speech. Some may work better than others for you so experiment to see what works best for you.

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3 thoughts on “Public Speaking Success: How to Relax Before a Speech

  1. Terry Gault

    James,

    Thanks for the excellent post!

    From personal experience, here are my own 9 steps I suggest for feeling more comfortable in front of an audience, which should help to alleviate the fear of speaking in public:

    1. As the days and weeks lead up to your presentation, practice creative visualization. Fear stems from the unconscious repetitive thoughts and feelings about failing. The key to successful visualizations is simultaneously feeling positive emotions attached to images that you see. Imagine the room in which you will present. Feel the empowering sense that this could be your break-through moment. This could be when you reach to a higher level than you ever thought possible. Imagine yourself now in front of the audience facing them, looking calmly and intently into their faces. Take a big breath and feel relaxation welling-up within you. Imagine giving the EXACT kind of presentation you want – however that looks, sounds and feels to you. When you are done imagining yourself delivering your presentation, hear in your mind’s ear the enthusiastic applause of your audience. See faces that are pleased, moved and touched by what you’ve done. See others seeking you out, shaking your hand, congratulating you on your performance. For as long as possible, keep experiencing that feeling of triumphal success. Repeat this process as many times as possible.
    2. About 5 – 10 minutes before your presentations, use this breathing technique: with your mouth closed, count out 4 seconds in your mind during each measured, controlled inhalation and exhalation through your nostrils. Then slow it down even further to a 6, 8, or 10 count. That will help to soothe your entire nervous system, slow your heart rate, and lower your blood pressure. You will feel much calmer, your thinking will be much more lucid, and you will be able to communicate your ideas much more clearly in moments of stress.
    3. Start with a personal story. Stories help you get into the “zone” of presenting. You are intimately familiar with the material and it’s easy to be more animated with an energetic, expressive voice, movement and gestures when telling a story.
    4. Many clients prefer conversation to “presentation.” If so, start with an interactive opening. Ask the audience a question, preferably an open-ended one (who, what, where, when, why, how). Call on them by name. Engage them by expressing genuine curiosity in their ideas and thoughts. Your scary and silent audience can be quickly transformed into an informal gathering, sharing their ideas and perspective.
    5. Change your paradigm about the sensation you are labeling as fear or anxiety. Instead of labeling is as “fear,” think of it as energy, which you can channel into your presentation.
    6. Strong movement, gestures and an expressive, energetic voice which will command more attention and project more confidence and charisma. 80 – 90% of the presenters that I observe do not expend enough energy. Hence, they come across as uninvolved, uninteresting, and unenthusiastic.
    7. Sustain eye contact with individual members of your audience. You will project confidence and trustworthiness and your presentation will feel more like an informal conversation.
    8. Get up in front of groups often. There is no substitute for experience. As the experience grows more familiar, your fears will lessen. You may eventually find that you relish the chance to present.
    9. Don’t give up. As American writer and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson observed, “Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.”

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