If you wrestle with fear when you speak, you’re not alone. If you’re a new speaker, overcoming nerves is probably an area that undermines your confidence at each event. Even if you’re an experienced speaker, you might be like me and still struggle with nerves every once in awhile when the setting is stressful.
Either way, there are steps we can take to manage our fear and use the adrenaline generated in ways that help us instead of hindering us.
Address the Physical Responses
The adrenaline rush created by fear can cause a faster heart rate, cold hands, hyperventilation, increased blood pressure, sweating, dry mouth, and trembling or tightening of the muscles. I’m sure all of us have experienced one or more of these side effects of fear, and most of them hamper speaking.
I’ve learned to embrace a little nervousness as a natural adrenaline rush that will help me open with energy, but I want to have a steady voice and a calm body. Square breathing has become the primary way I address fear. Here are the steps:
- While counting to 4, inhale slowly through your nose.
- Hold the breath for 4 slow counts.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth while counting to 4.
- Hold the breath for 4 slow counts.
- Repeat 2-3 times.
Square breathing prevents hyperventilation and floods our body with oxygen which helps clear and sharpen our minds. It also gives our brains something to do (counting) besides thinking about how nervous we are. I challenge you to practice it now and give it a try the next time you speak.
Often, when we pay attention, we can plan ahead and address our physical responses to nerves in helpful ways. Do you get dry- mouth? Ask the event planner for water ahead of time. Do you have trouble sleeping the days before an event? Either plan times for naps pre-event or block off a day for rest after the event.
Thinking through your specific physical responses before an event and creating strategies to address them will build your confidence.
Create Top-Notch Content
I believe that fear is diminished most by having a strong message, one that you’re passionate about and excited to deliver. Lots of delivery issues resolve themselves when we start with a strong message, but problems abound when we’re not ready with a message that connects with others.
Preparation is a key part of crafting a strong message. Preparing for me means hours in prayer and Bible study before I write my message. You may focus on research before you create something new for your audience, but make sure to set time aside. Although we may occasionally be called on to speak extemporaneously, committing to preparation should be our common practice.
Because speaking is a craft, another way to create confidence is to invest in the preparation of training, just like you’re receiving through the Communicator Academy podcast and blog. Books, conferences and coaching are other ways to learn to create strong content.
Preparation and training are crucial as we craft strong messages that create confidence and overcome our fears as we stand to speak.
Commit to Practice
Finally, I have to address my least favorite way to overcome speaker fear — practice. I’m just going to confess that I HATE practicing before I speak, but I can’t leave it out since it’s very effective. As Rob Eager, marketing consultant and owner of WildFire Marketing says, “Practicing doesn’t make you sound canned. It makes you sound like a pro.”
When we practice our message, we gain confidence by working out the kinks. For my practice, I set up a music stand for my notes in front of a full-length mirror in my bathroom and set the timer on my phone.
Here’s what practice addresses:
- Time constraints One of the worst transgressions a speaker can make is running over time. Practicing allows us to trim our message if needed so we can stay within the time we’ve been given.
- Quirks When my adrenaline is pumping at the beginning of a session, my hands tend to be crazy. I practice in front of a mirror so that I can practice quieting my gestures. What’s your quirk? Too many “um”s? Smacking your lips in pauses? Staying tied behind the podium? I find that I’m too “in the zone” when I actually speak to pay attention to these tics, but we can practice ahead of time to work on eliminating quirks.
- Nerves Physically practicing puts all our learning styles to work — audio, visual and tactile. After practicing a time or two, we’ll feel confident about knowing our message, assured that we can stay within our time and sure that we’re not going to be swamped with audience-distracting quirks. All of those together means that our nerves will be more in check when we stand to speak.
It’s completely normal and human to be nervous when we speak, but we want to build confidence so that our fear doesn’t overcome us. Being more at ease when we speak will be a blessing both to our audience and to us as speakers.
Amy Carroll is a speaker and writer for Proverbs 31 Ministries. She’s author of Breaking Up with Perfect and speaker coach at Next Step Coaching Services. You can always find her trying to figure out one more alternative to cooking dinner.
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