Do you want to get rid of your nerves before you speak in public? Before you read any more tips or tricks, read this!
The other day I gave a public speaking seminar. I was talking to an attendee afterwards, who said something which I really appreciated — she told me that it was refreshing to have a presentation trainer (i.e. me) who doesn’t naturally find presenting easy.
You see, I’m an introvert. Over the years, I have learned how to handle my nerves to become an engaging and confident public speaker. I now really enjoy speaking in public and I’m building a whole business around it… but I still get nervous before I stand up to speak.
I make a point of telling attendees at my events about the fact that I still get nerves, and how I deal them. I think this is important. After all, I’m teaching them about public speaking. It’s important for them to know that I’m just like they are. By contrast, a lot of public speaking trainers seem very extroverted. Speaking looks easy for them and, as a result, a lot of people feel like these trainers don’t understand what nerves really feel like.
I definitely understand what nerves feel like.
I also know techniques which can help you to handle public speaking nerves.
In this article, I’ll discuss why we feel nerves and how you can overcome them.
You Are Not Alone
“More people are afraid of public speaking than they are afraid of death.”
People often tell me this “fact”, but few people seem to know where the information comes from.
The original source of the information was a survey conducted in 1973 by the company R.H. Brusin Associates. It found that 40% of people picked “speaking in front of a group” from a list of common fears, more than picked “death”. However, the claim that speaking is feared “more than death” is questionable at best. The survey’s respondents could pick multiple options and they weren’t asked to rank their fears. In a follow up study in 2010, researchers found that death was more feared than public speaking … but public speaking came a close second.
In any case, it’s safe to say that an awful lot of us feel nervous before we get up to speak.
The main comfort you can draw from these research studies is that you are not alone. It is normal to feel nervous before speaking in front of a group. The audience — the people listening to you — will be very forgiving because many of them also feel nervous before they speak.
Why Do I Feel Nervous Before Speaking?
Okay, so many people are afraid of public speaking. The question is: why?
Being afraid of death makes inherent sense, doesn’t it? An integral part of any life is to avoid death. But public speaking?
When we look at the potential evolutionary purpose of this anxiety, it starts to make some sense.
Public Speaking Anxiety is a specific type of Social Anxiety, which itself is “the threat of unsatisfactory evaluations from audiences”. According to researchers Maner and Kendrick, social anxieties stop us from doing things which would alienate us from our social group, make us seem weak to potential mates or upset the social hierarchy.
This suggests that we fear giving presentations because — evolutionarily speaking — we are afraid of being rejected by others. As human beings, we rely on social groups in order to survive. In primal times, being rejected by our social group would be tantamount to death.
Compared to other social situations, public speaking makes us feel especially vulnerable because we are speaking in front of a whole roomful of people, many of whom we don’t know.
Even though nothing bad will happen if you mess up a presentation, it seems possible that we are “hardwired” to have some social anxiety.
How to Handle Public Speaking Nerves
So, it is natural for us to be afraid of public speaking. How should we handle it?
People often say that they want to “get rid of the fear”. The nerves feel uncomfortable so they (understandably) want to find a way to make them go away.
My suggestion is not to get rid of the fear.
Instead, my approach is to accept the fear.
When you try to ignore or avoid nerves before giving a presentation, you risk the nerves arriving without warning. For example, your projector breaks, it throws you off-balance and suddenly the fear comes rushing back.
When you accept the nerves, you can use them to your advantage.
Step 1: Make Friends With Your Nerves
The first step is to accept that your nerves exist. They will not go away.
Instead of trying to avoid thinking about the nerves, take some time to just breathe. Stand or sit with a long, free spine (i.e. a back which is not bent) and pay attention to your breathing for a minute or so.
After a while, or when you feel calmer, turn your attention to the feeling of nerves.
Notice how it feels to be nervous.
Notice where in your body you feel the nerves most strongly — for me, I feel them around my solar plexus (the point where the bottom ribs meet in the middle at the front).
It can be helpful to think that you are trying to “make friends with your nerves”.
Step 2: Warm Up
Warming up your voice and body is my preferred solution for dealing with nerves.
Anxiety tends to become stronger when we think about it too much. We run over and over our fears in our mind again and again, which just makes them worse.
When we warm up our voice, we switch our attention to our body and our breathing. This gives our mind a rest for a little while, which is very useful before we give the presentation.
If you enter your details into the form below, I’ll send you my free warm up eBook which you can use to warm up before a presentation.
Step 3: Turn Nerves into Excitement
With practice, you can even use the nerves to your advantage.
Nervous energy is usually accompanied by a rush of adrenaline. This makes the feeling of fear very similar — physically — to the feeling of excitement.
Instead of thinking “I am scared” think “I am excited”.
Even if you don’t believe it (yet), simply thinking “I am excited” can help to shift your perspective of the nerves.
When you are sitting and waiting to stand up to speak, notice the feeling of adrenaline enter your body.
Notice your heart beating faster. Notice how your body feels elsewhere.
Breathe out … and remind tell yourself: “I am excited.”
Eventually, you can learn to enjoy public speaking instead of fearing it, just as I have done. The physical sensations of nerves will probably never go away completely. But, you can certainly learn to live with them … and even look forward to them, as you start to think of them as excitement instead.