If you tell me that I’ll be speaking in front of a group of people or in the spotlight … I’ll be nervous. It doesn’t matter how well I know the material, who the audience is, how much I center myself prior, or what kind of presentation or performance I might be giving. I’ve been like this my entire life.
The funny thing is, I’ve spent a lot of time in the spotlight. I spent 15 years doing theatre and dance when I was younger, and I’ve been a singer-songwriter for the last decade, playing open mics and small gigs. I also teach yoga, where I find myself at the front of the room, I perform improv, and I regularly do presentations and workshops for clients and teams.
After all this practice, you would think I’d be a wiz at public speaking, but I still struggle. The good news is, there are a few things I’ve figured out that help to settle my nerves before I take center stage. In preparation for a presentation I’m giving this week that has me nervous, I thought I would remind myself of the things I do to alleviate the stress that comes with public speaking. In no order of importance, here are some practices you might want to try, too—should you find yourself jittery before taking the spotlight.
Mindfulness for Nervous Public Speakers
Mindfulness and meditation practices are effective ways to counter nerves. Simple deep breathing is all it usually takes to settle a nervous mind and a case of the jitters.
It’s a good idea to put yourself in a relaxed mode for at least a few minutes each day leading up to your big event. And on the morning of your performance or presentation, try this simple meditation for 10-15 minutes:
- Close your eyes and bring awareness to your breath. Slow inhales and deep exhales.
- Take a few minutes to practice breath retention: inhale for a count of 5, hold for 5, exhale for 5, hold at the bottom for 5. Take 5-10 rounds.
- Visualize the presentation or performance from start to finish. Envision your arrival, your confidence as you enter the room, your engaging start to the presentation, your voice as loud and clear, and how your audience is engaged and interested in what you have to say. Visualize the entire process as smooth and successful.
Identify Your Fears
Ask yourself why you’re nervous. Is it because of what people will think? Are you afraid you’ll screw up? Have technology issues? Someone will ask a question you don’t know the answer to? The audience will laugh you off stage or fall asleep?
Then remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing. It’s probably because you are qualified, talented, inspiring, dynamic or any combination or variation of them all. Use positive self-talk to remind yourself why you’re presenting or performing in the first place. That should put your fears into perspective.
Worst-Case Scenario Exercise
What’s the worst that can actually happen? Be realistic here, don’t use the 0.00000000007 percent chance that there could be an earthquake mid-way through your solo, sending you sliding off stage.
Really and honestly—what’s the worst thing that can happen? Get to know the worst-case scenario … I bet it isn’t actually THAT bad.
Use Your Pre-Stage Anxiety
Depending on the dose of anxiety you’re dealing with, you can use the adrenalin as fuel to power you through a high-energy speech or presentation in a more dynamic way. If you find the rush turning to nerves, take a few deep breaths and remember why you are doing what you’re doing, or revert to steps one or two above.
That doesn’t mean memorize the speech or presentation word-for-word (unless of course you are in a play, then that’s exactly what it means … ) But you should know your material cold and be comfortable presenting it in front of a friend first.
Anticipate a few audience questions or ask your “guinea pig” what questions they have post-presentation so you can think through your response in the dry run. No matter how much you meditate or prepare, there will always be some stage fright—that’s normal. But knowing your material builds confidence, and confidence is a powerful antidote to nerves.
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As an ICF Certified Executive Coach, Melissa partners with leaders to develop their executive presence, strategic and systems thinking, resilience, communication skills, and influence in order to reach their goals. Melissa is passionate about supporting leaders and teams on their growth journeys toward greater impact, more collaborative teams, and stronger results.