How to overcome your nerves when you speak in public
A couple of months ago, I gave a speech to 200 people in the Mayor’s office in London for the final of BBC1’s ‘The Apprentice’. The biggest challenge for me was thinking about the fact that 8 to 10 million people would be watching the final episode, so I was not merely public speaking with a 200 person audience. Instead, I felt like I was giving the biggest speech of my life. Very rarely do people speak to millions of people; especially if they are presenting a startup business idea. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it required a great deal of mental preparation.
In order to overcome the stress of this daunting task, I followed the following steps. I decided to share them with you because I believe they can be helpful tactics for public speaking engagements.
- Take deep breaths. Don’t just breathe in and out of your mouth though. What you need to do is this: breathe in through your nose for 5 seconds. Then hold your breath for 7 seconds. Then breathe out of your mouth for 5 seconds. If you do this several times, you calm your body down.
- Smile. If you smile a lot before you go on stage, your body diminishes its stress levels. I once read that if you’re ever suffering from stress or anxiety, smiling or laughing is a great way to trick your brain into thinking that everything is “under control.”
- Pretend you are Mo Farah. Yes – I know it sounds strange but the best thing you can do is to mimic the body language of a winner at the end of a race. Put your hands up over your head and imagine that you just nailed your speech. This prepares your body to display positive and open cues to the audience.
- Choose a few friendly faces in the audience and speak to them. Rather than getting overwhelmed by the large numbers of people, you should find a few people who you think look engaged and just speak directly to them. Make eye contact often. And smile at them. Pretend you are just having a one-on-one conversation. It will make your speech much more powerful for the entire audience.
- Speak slowly. This is the best tip I’ve ever gotten because I never noticed how quickly I was speaking when I was public speaking. That is, until I was in the audience of another speech that I felt I couldn’t keep up with. There is nothing more frustrating for the audience than feeling lost in the speed of the presentation. Take things extra slow. Enunciate. It may feel like you’re speaking ridiculously slow but that probably means you’re doing a great job.
I hope these tips help you in your future public speaking endeavours.