public-speaking

How to banish nerves from public speaking

At the start of my career I worked with a well-known and popular broadcast journalist with a ton of experience in presenting live TV.  He was confident, energetic and highly skilled at building empathetic connections with interviewees in a short space of time.

He was also crippled by nerves and once told me how he used to experience acute attacks of butterflies and adrenaline surges just before the lights went down and the cameras came on at the start of 3 hours of live TV. His description was so intense that it amazed me that people watching from home weren’t able to see what he was going through. It also made me think he was a fool for working in live TV if he still couldn’t handle his physical responses and stress after 15 years in the business.

Of course, what I later learned was that riding the adrenaline was his ‘thing’. But the broader point here is that people who get nervous about public speaking or media interviews often assume that those they consider to be good don’t suffer at all.  But that often isn’t true. Many good speakers get nervous – they just have strategies for helping them cope with stage fright.

Here are a few tips that our clients have often told us they find helpful for managing public speaking or media interview nerves.

1. Manage your expectations of yourself

Accept that that your personal experience of discomfort is not the same as the audience’s view of your performance. You might be dying inside but there is often no correlation between how you feel and what an audience (live or TV) sees.  And don’t forget that a bit of nervousness can sometimes endear the speaker to the audience, provided it doesn’t get in the way of what they are saying.

Nerves are one of the most common issues people have with public speaking

Not comfortable with speaking into microphones or to cameras? You aren’t alone. Many seasoned speakers don’t like the podium, or staring down the barrel of a massive broadcast camera. However, they are good at accepting the artifice and managing their response to it.  Practising regularly on camera can also help, partly because it gets people into the habit of treating speaking as a workable skill, while reassuring many that they aren’t as bad as feared.

2. Preparation includes practice

Preparation of message houses, PowerPoints or speaking notes is not complete unless you have rehearsed your prepared material aloud several times and got your tongue familiar with what you want to say. Trust me, it will help the nerves enormously. Particularly if you are not going to be speaking in your mother tongue.

3. Get familiar with your environment

Clearly, you aren’t going to be able to walk into a live broadcast studio and conduct your own pre-interview audit but you and your PR team can do as much due diligence as possible on what to expect in terms of technology and interview flow.  Likewise, if you are speaking at a conference or an event, it’s worth getting into the room early to see what the room layout will be like and where the podium or desk is. If you can rehearse your opening points even better.

4. Centre yourself

Everyone is jumping on the mindfulness band wagon these days but many people do find it enormously helpful for centering themselves, putting things into perspective and remaining calm. As a keen but poor runner I can also add that doing several mental run-throughs of the Brussels 20km route ahead of last year’s race helped me enormously when it came to not giving up on the final nasty uphill stretch. This may sound touchy-feely but anyone who has seen me run and done the 20km will know what I am talking about.

5. Fake it

Seriously. Lots of people worry about being in the ‘zone’ when it comes to public speaking or an interview. And while I do agree that taking a few minutes ahead of time to get into ‘performance mode’ can be helpful, I also think that a good way to create confidence is to fake it.

And who knows, you might even get so caught up in your performance that you find yourself enjoying it…

What tips work for you?

About Laura Shields

Laura Shields is Brussels Director of The Media Coach. After graduating from Cambridge University in 2000, she worked as a financial producer for CNN and CNBC Europe in London before moving to BBC News as the Economics and Business Analyst. At the BBC Laura also produced political and financial news for Radio 4′s World at One and PM programmes and was a key member of the teams that produced the TV results coverage for the UK, US and European elections. Laura was a contributor to the BBC website and has also had her work published in Open Democracy and Communication Director and Outsource Magazines. Laura is now working as a media trainer, journalist and panel moderator based in Brussels. As a journalist she reports from the major EU Summits and moderates high level conferences and panels for clients including the European Commission and Parliament, the UN, businesses and NGOs. Laura hosts Media Training, Presentation Training, Social Media Training, Crisis Media Training and Message Building courses for The Media Coach.

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  1. Robert Matthews
    Robert Matthews says:

    Picking up on the mindfulness theme….the Dalai Lama (who’s given a few talks in his time, apparently) says one of his top tips for combating nerves is to take in the right motivation to the event. He says that much of the fear surrounding an event is fear of making an ass of oneself and thus damaging one’s image and ego. He recommends swapping this for a desire to be of help to those who are listening – giving them whatever insights and information you can offer.

    Certainly not a bad attitude to take into any presentation: in my experience, far too many are focused on what the speaker wants, not the listener.

    For those wanting more “scientific” tips, Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on body language (7m+ views to date) may be worth a look:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ks-_Mh1QhMc

    The jury is currently out on all the stuff about the impact on hormone levels, but that’s a side-issue.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ks-_Mh1QhMc

    Reply

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