It’s normal to get nervous about public speaking.
When you stand up in front of people and open your mouth, you’re making yourself vulnerable. Public speaking involves risk. So aiming for zero fear is unrealistic.
I still get nervous when I have to present in unfamiliar situations. I’m very used to presenting to small groups of people on a course. That’s my comfort zone. But take me outside of that familiar situation, and I’ll get nervous.
If I were to get upset about being nervous, I would make it worse. I don’t fight my nerves, I use them.
Here are three specific ways in which you can use your fear of public speaking to make you a better public speaker and presenter.
1. Let your fear of public speaking motivate you
I gave a presentation on Monday, which I prepared over the weekend. I decided that I would use the flipchart as my main visual aid, but I had three PowerPoint slides that I wanted to show. I didn’t rehearse with the PowerPoint slides because I saw them as such a minimal part of the presentation. Half an hour before the presentation as I sat listening to the presenter before me, I realised I had forgotten to insert black slides into the PowerPoint file (find out more about black slides ). It wasn’t a disaster, and probably nobody noticed but me, but I knew that my presentation was not quite as good as it could have been.
Here’s the lesson I take from this: I wasn’t nervous enough and complacency got the better of me. If I had been more nervous, I would have rehearsed with the PowerPoint slides and realized that I needed to insert black slides.
Preparation and rehearsal take time and effort. We need to be motivated to do it – and fear is a great motivator. People without fear tend to skimp on preparation and rehearsal, they wing it. So they waffle and ramble their way through their minutes on stage.
Let your fear motivate you to prepare and rehearse and you’ll be a more effective speaker.
2. You can choose how to interpret your fear of public speaking
Here’s a classic experiment in psychology:
Students were led to believe that they were getting a vitamin injection with no side effects, but were instead injected with adrenalin. Adrenalin causes a pounding heart, tremors and a flushed feeling. They were then asked to wait in a room while the ‘vitamin’ was getting absorbed. There was another person in the room with them – a stooge of the experimenters. In half the cases, the stooge was playful and fun – creating a ‘euphoric’ atmosphere. In the other half, the stooge was disagreeable, moaning and groaning – creating an ‘angry’ atmosphere. The students were observed through a one-way window and were then asked to fill in a questionnaire about their feelings. The students described and labeled their mood according to the atmosphere they had been placed in. (Adapted from Weiten W Psychology:Themes and Variations 1992)
Adrenalin is also at work when you feel nervous about speaking. The students in the experiment interpreted the effects of adrenalin differently. So can you. Feel the adrenalin and choose to interpret it as excitement and energy towards the challenge of speaking.
3. Use the adrenalin to fuel your passion
A totally relaxed and laidback speaker is unlikely to show passion. To show passion you need to be full of energy and excitement about sharing your message with the audience. That comes from adrenalin. The same adrenalin that is making you nervous. Use that adrenalin to fuel your passion.
So don’t fight your nerves, make friends with them – and use them to make you a better speaker.