Many of us get nervous about speaking in public, whether it’s speaking at an internal meeting to your staff or presenting a research paper at a medical conference. Sweaty palms, shaking hands and a voice that keeps going high and squeaky are just a few of the common signs of nerves.
Here are a few pointers on how to control your nerves and deliver a great presentation every time.
1. Preparation = confidence
The more prepared we are for a presentation or speech, the fewer reasons we have to be nervous, as a lot of our nervousness is based around a fear of forgetting what we’re going to say, losing our way or simply looking stupid. A good rule is to spend an hour preparing for every five minutes you’re going to be presenting. That might seem a lot but there’s no such thing as too much preparation – and you want to be GREAT.
Actors do it, comics do it, singers do it. In fact all performers rehearse to ensure they’re as good as they can possibly be, and when you’re presenting in front of an audience, you need to do likewise. You should run through any presentation, no matter how long or short, at least twice before delivering it – and ideally more often that that. Do it once for yourself, to start to feel familiar with whatever notes and props or visual aids you’re using. Then do it again for a small audience, ideally one that will tell you the truth about your performance. Don’t take their feedback as criticism – take it as an opportunity to be even better next time. You can also be your own audience by videoing your rehearsal (an iPhone works well) then watching it back and critiquing how you did.
3. Know what your nervous ticks are
Do you know what you do when you get nervous? Knowing the small things that give away your nerves is the most important step in addressing and overcoming them. Do you always play with your hair or glasses? Fiddle with your ring? Hop from foot to foot or bounce up and down? Or do you go bright red, hyperventilate or sweat a lot? Or do you end every sentence with ‘OK?’ or turn into an ‘um’ and ‘er’ monster?
The best way to find out is to ask people who have seen you when you’re nervous (not necessarily about a presentation). They’ll often be only too happy to point out your irritating nervous ticks – and once you know what those ticks are, you’re far less likely to carry on doing them. The other way to do it is to video yourself and look for repeated actions or words.
The tricky ones to address are the physical ones such as going red or sweating a lot. Try wearing something that doesn’t highlight your skin tones (so no red or pink) or making sure you’ve got on a dark shirt or blouse so sweat stains aren’t as obvious.
4. Warm up – and calm down
Just as all performers rehearse, they also warm up before taking a stage. Doing a short physical, mental and vocal warm up can make a huge difference to your state of mind and also your performance as a speaker. You can warm up in your car on your way to speak, backstage or just in your office. Try humming ‘Amazing Grace’ to warm up the high and low parts of your voice. If you want to bring your breathing under control, try breathing in for a count of four, out for a count of four, then repeating for counts of 6, 8 and 10. Keep it slow and even. Do some stretches, pace the floor, jump up and down – do whatever you need to do to get you in the zone.
5. Remember – the audience want you to do well.
No one likes seeing a bad speaker. Watching someone suffer on stage can be excruciating for an audience. An audience wants to be engaged, informed and entertained by a speaker, so they’re on your side. They’re not waiting for you to mess up or fail, they’re willing you to do well, especially as most of them will at some point have to present or speak in public too.
Some people say you should imagine your audience naked, but that just makes me want to laugh rather than speak well. Instead, try not to talk at, to or over your audience. Talk WITH them, ask questions and get some interaction going. While audience members are asking or answering questions, you’ve got time to take a breath and maybe a sip of water and reassure yourself that it’s actually going pretty well – and relax!
Conquering your nerves is only part of making a great presentation or speech but it’s the one most people are concerned about. Concentrate on writing and developing great content, delivered confidently, and you’ll not have anything to get nervous about.
Steve Bustin runs presentation skills training through Medical Media Training, along with media interview, social media and PR skills training. See www.medicalmediatraining.com for more details.
Author profile: Steve Bustin
Medical Media Training was founded by journalist and PR expert Steve Bustin. Steve also runs PR consultancy Vada Media, working with clients to give them media exposure and to improve public perception of their business.
Steve started his career as a broadcast journalist for BBC News, working across national radio and TV programmes before going freelance. He still writes for national magazines and newspapers alongside his training and consultancy work.
Vada Media and Medical Media Training have worked with clients including Breast Reconstruction Awareness Week, Vascular Awareness Week, The Cadogan Clinic, Senova Dental Studios, Privatehealthcare.co.uk, treatmentabroad.com and The London Vascular Clinic.