A few days ago, I taught a big presentation skills workshop for a large advertising agency in New York City. As I got through the section on sales pitches, and started moving toward accent reduction, I felt my hands shake a bit. I could feel my breath shorten. I could sense the eyeballs on me. “I’m a speech coach!”, I thought, “I can’t get nervous.”
Well, guess what? I did. I took an awkward pause, pretended my throat was dry, took a sip of water, and then resumed. I stumbled on a word or two, but overall I was able to ace the job.
I still wonder if some folks noticed I was anxious. I assume they did. The truth is being a speech coach doesn’t exempt me from suffering from the same issues my clients face while presenting. Everyone feels anxious before they speak, or while they speak. The question is what do we do about it?
For me, it depends on whether I am at the beginning, middle or end of my speech. If it is the moment before I am about to speak, I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and remind myself that the speech is not about me, but rather, about the people I am speaking to. I put my attention on them. I think, “How can I help?”. If I am in the middle of the speech and I feel anxious, the first thing I do is think, “don’t fight it”. My years of being a speech coach have taught me that anxiety, if properly directed, can be a powerful tool. It can energize your speech. I usually think to myself “I’m excited to present” and the nerves disappear. I also give myself permission to take a break, stop speaking, and allow for silence. Silence is powerful when it is embraced.
You should consider what type of person you are when deciding how to manage your speaking anxiety. Some people are naturally confident, and need only to reassure themselves to feel better. Other people tend to chronically doubt themselves. If you are of the latter, trying to reassure yourself will backfire. It will put you in conflict with your thoughts. Try agreeing with your doubts, without believing them. By saying to yourself, “yes I am thinking that I am going to blow this, fine”, you can then move on, and focus on the task at hand. Again, you don’t have to believe the thoughts; you just need to acknowledge them.
So take it from a guy who knows, it is possible to manage your speaking anxiety. You just need to know what type of person you are, and what tools you would like to use.