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Quick Tip: Overcoming the F.E.A.R. of Speaking
By Bill Wilson   Printer Friendly Version

Virtually all speakers get nervous before an important presentation...butterflies, trembling, voice quavers (like Mr. Haney on Green Acres), shortness of breath, sweaty palms, pacing/rocking, pocket-change-jingling, and so forth. At a recent presentation to 300 strangers in San Diego, I started off by reading from a sheet of paper and immediately discovered that my hands were trembling. Solution? Calmly lay the paper on the speaker's table and keep going...nobody will know!

Nervousness usually arises from one of four sources, as discussed in The Speaker article elsewhere on this site. There are a number of techniques you can use to control your nervousness, though the best one is just getting more and more experience until the speaking situation becomes more natural.

Even so, you will most likely continue to experience some nervousness throughout your career. Here are four things you can do, following an F.E.A.R. acronym:

Failure...believe in your message and be enthused about the opportunity to present it. Don't anticipate the worst and go into it with the attitude that you just want to get it over with. Try things like breathing exercises, having a Hershey bar (one speaker swears by the soothing effect of chocolate!), expending nervous energy by taking a quick walk, etc. Also, NEVER apologize for being nervous or inexperienced...unless you tell your audience, they will probably not know you're nervous.

Environment...arrive early, walk around and view the room for the audience's perspective and from where you will be standing. Make sure the set-up is to your satisfaction. Take control of the temperature, lights, noise, and other environmental factors...it's YOUR show!

Audience...know what they expect of you. Do you know? Do you know what every audience expects? The answer is simple: something-anything-of value! It's amazing how often most speakers fail to deliver on that simple demand. Also, keep this in mind: the audience is on YOUR side. Have you ever gone to a presentation hoping the speaker would be terrible? Of course not.

Rehearsal...I'll have to admit, I'm bad about this. Some speakers swear by videotaping their practice sessions or speaking before a mirror. That's never worked for me, but I wouldn't discourage you from trying it since I may be an exception to the rule. The most important thing, though, is to know your material...preparation, preparation, preparation. You can probably reduce your nervousness by 75% just by being confident in your knowledge of the subject matter and the general outline of your presentation. And, while you're rehearsing, visualize success...imagine an attentive audience, rousing applause, and throngs of people coming to you with questions after you're through. It really works.

Copyright 1999-2000 by William C. Wilson, Jr.
All Rights Reserved.

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