By Shelli Vasser Gilliam, Public Speaking Coach
Do you feel stressed when it’s your turn to speak with a senior advisor, client, or in front of an audience? Does public speaking make you jittery?
April is Stress Awareness Month and we know that speaking in front of a small or large audience can be nerve-wracking and uncomfortable. That is why we’re sharing our top 5 strategies to help you reframe stress and remain calm before and during the delivery of your next speech or presentation.
Stress can show up in the daily routines of our lives. For instance, when we are rushing and traffic is heavy on our way to a meeting or event, we tend to become overwhelmed. When delivering difficult news or answering tough questions, we may become nervous about sharing information with our teams.
The pressure of responsibilities for which we do not feel well prepared can also lead to stress. Sleeplessness, loss of appetite, and weight loss or gain are some of the ways stress manifests in our lives.
We recommend 5 strategies to release stress and remain calm when speaking in public.
1. Reframe your nervousness.
If you fear public speaking, the idea of having to present in front of an audience or speak up in a meeting will make you nervous. Rather than panicking, you can use your jitters to your advantage by reframing your anxiety as excitement.
It’s also important to remember that public speaking is a form of exercising leadership with your voice. This too represents a changed mindset approach.
Think of reframing your nerves this way—public speaking gives you the opportunity to advocate for others. Being asked to share your expertise also positions you for future opportunities. Consider the many lives you will impact with your speech or presentation. By using your voice, think about how you can positively influence, inform, and inspire people.
2. Pause and breathe.
We believe public speaking is a skill, not a talent. Whether speaking with small or large audiences or to one person, it takes time and practice to build your skills and comfort level. One practice we recommend is to pause and breathe. Find a quiet place, center yourself, and focus on your breathing. As you rehearse, if there are points in your presentation that cause you to stumble, pause and breathe, and then pick up where you left off.
Pausing and breathing while delivering your presentation may seem unusual at first. Think of it as time to allow your audience to absorb your message. The more you practice this technique, the calmer and more comfortable you will feel using it.
3. Remember your reason.
Stress affects us in many ways. Lacking confidence, support, or resources can also create stress. It is critical that you connect with your sense of purpose and understand the reason your work matters.
One way we do this is to ask, Why You? As in, Why are you choosing to speak up on this topic now? Why do you care about your work and the people you serve?
Knowing your Why You? will help you build confidence, remain calm before and during your speech, and remind you why this topic, idea, or project is meaningful.
Nobel Peace Prize nominee and former candidate for President of Nigeria, Dr. Obiageli Ezekwesili, shared the motivating force driving her to speak up. Her compelling story is her “Why You?”
4. Visualize your delivery.
Visualizing your delivery is a powerful practice. Close your eyes and think about your content, where you will stand, your hand movements, facial expressions, and the emphasis you will place on certain words or phrases. How do you want others to feel when they hear your voice?
If you are stressed, not only will your audience see and feel it, they will hear it. If you are excited about the information you’re sharing, your voice, tone, and energy will resonate with the audience.
For example, if you are delivering an update during a virtual or in-person meeting, visualize that experience and your expectations in advance. How will you use your voice and time? What questions do you think you will receive? How will you answer the questions?
Visualization will help you unpack the presentation, feel prepared and confident, and allow you to remain calm as you deliver the content in the moment.
Practice is always necessary to build skills, confidence, and comfort with public speaking. If you are delivering your speech in person, we recommend practicing in the space or venue where you will be speaking to become comfortable with the environment.
Schedule a visit to the venue prior to the presentation, or arrive a couple of hours early to familiarize yourself with the space and where you will be presenting. For virtual presentations, record yourself during a practice session on the platform you will use. Use a tool like AMPLIFY to get AI-based feedback on your pacing, pausing, and fillers.
When you combine practice with being in the space where you will deliver your speech, you’ll be surprised by how it builds confidence and prepares you for your presentation or pitch. Practicing in the space or online will help you feel more comfortable whether speaking to a small or large audience or 1:1.
Speaking up for the first time or one-hundredth time, delivering difficult news to your team, or having 1:1 conversations can create discomfort or stress. It doesn’t have to stop you from pursuing public speaking opportunities.
Training and practice will help reduce stress, build confidence and skills, and increase your comfort level with public speaking. Changing your mindset and understanding your Why You? will help you embrace each opportunity and remain calm under pressure.