Posted July 23, 2013 by

How to Calm Those Public Speaking Jitters

Businesswoman speaking at a conference

Businesswoman speaking at a conference. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Your mouth feels like a desert, although small streams of sweat have started congregating on your forehead and running toward your eyes. Your hands have fared no better, and you frantically look for a tissue to wipe the clamminess off of your palms — which is next to impossible with your trembling fingers. You wonder if anyone can hear your knees knocking as you walk up to the podium and nervously begin speaking. You stumble over your words, and feel like a fool by the time you’ve finished your presentation.

If this is how you feel about speaking in public, you’re not alone. In fact, studies show that fear of public speaking is one of the biggest phobias people have — and in some cases, people are more afraid of speaking in public than they are of getting a serious illness or even dying. And it’s not just introverts who are afflicted with the fear of public speaking — social butterflies may also be affected.

But as public speaking skills become increasingly important for success in school and in the workplace, it’s imperative to overcome this fear in order to succeed. Although it’s not possible to completely get over a fear of speaking in public — even the most experienced speakers get jitters before a presentation — these tips can help you reduce that nervousness.

Preparation

One of the biggest reasons people get stage fright is because they often speak without properly preparing for their presentations. In order to combat this problem, says Matt Eventoff of Princeton Public Speaking, you can ask yourself the following questions as you prepare your presentation:

•    What are the key ideas I will be talking about?
•    What do I want my audience to do because of the information I’ve given them?
•    What does my audience care about as it relates to this topic?
•    What should my audience care about?
•    What am I ultimately trying to accomplish with this presentation?

By answering these questions, you can determine what points you want to convey in your presentation, while trimming the fat that could potentially overload your audience with information. It’s important to keep your audience’s needs in the forefront, so you can craft messages that will resonate with them and make them feel like listening to you is worth their time and effort.

Practice

Another reason people get stage fright is because they have not practiced enough. No matter how well you know your subject matter, you’re setting yourself up for a bad experience if you don’t practice how to present it.

“In the workplace, you may have a team of eight people giving a big presentation, and they will spend forty or fifty hours working on a PowerPoint deck — tweaking words, tweaking design, adding things, subtracting things — and if they’re lucky, they might practice the presentation once before they actually deliver it,” Eventoff said. “That’s not going to do a whole lot to alleviate anxiety and nerves because you’re really not comfortable with the material. You’re really not putting yourself in the best position when you do that.”

Breathing exercises

Doing a series of deep breathing exercises before a speech can help lower your heart rate and give you a sense of calm that reduces your anxiety. One good breathing exercise is alternate nostril breathing, where you deeply inhale with one nostril while covering the other with your thumb. Once you’ve taken in all the air you can, hold your breath for up to 10 seconds, and then cover your other nostril with your finger as you exhale. You can repeat this several times to help calm you down before your presentation. Another effective technique is to take in deep breaths through your nose until you fill your diaphragm, and then exhale all of the air through your mouth.

Use the restroom

A trip to the restroom before a presentation doesn’t have to be for just the obvious reasons. You can get a little privacy in a stall before your presentation, which can allow you to do your breathing exercises, stretch your legs, listen to music that relaxes you for a few minutes or even practice parts of your presentation.
“There are precious few places where you can go and get privacy. The one place you can always get privacy, whether you’re male or female, is in a bathroom,” Eventoff said. “There’s always a stall with four walls and a lock, where no one will bother you. It’s the one place where you can guarantee yourself a minute of peace, and in those minutes before you’re presenting, that’s often really all you need.”

Cut down on caffeine

Caffeine may help jumpstart your day, but it can also jumpstart your nerves, increase the adrenaline your body produces and exacerbate your nervousness. Eventoff doesn’t suggest you give up your morning coffee entirely — the withdrawal you may experience can also cause you to get nervous — but instead try reducing your coffee intake to half your regular amount. (Who drinks the most coffee? The answer may surprise you.)

Don’t try to memorize your speech word for word

Some speakers erroneously believe that if they write out their entire speech and try to commit it to memory, it will reduce their nervousness because they know exactly what to say. Eventoff says this is a mistake that can often make you more nervous than you would have been had you tried to give your presentation from notes.

“People think memorizing a presentation will alleviate the nerves, when really it increases anxiety because it makes it impossible to be in the moment,” he said. “You’re so focused on what comes next, that it actually makes you more nervous.”

Instead, Eventoff suggests that you create notes to outline where you want to go in a speech, so if you lose your place, you can easily get refocused without worrying about exactly what you’re going to say.

Don’t sweat the small stuff

Even the most seasoned public speakers make mistakes now and then. Chances are, your audience won’t notice a mistake unless you make a big deal about it. If you need to correct some information, just make the correction and keep going. And even if you completely bomb during a presentation, the best thing you can do is try another one. People will often avoid public speaking after a bad experience, but this will only make the process seem even scarier — and the more time that passes, the more apprehension you will build up.

By: Kenya McCullum

About the Author:

Kenya McCullum is a freelance writer based in California.

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