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How top speakers manage nerves

Managing nerves when you’re asked to speak in public is something that you might struggle with. And you’re not alone! One of our favourite discoveries at Bespoke Communications is the Harvard commencement speech from the great American tv host, Oprah Winfrey.  In her speech, Oprah talks about the nerves that even well-known performers feel when taking part in a tv interview with her. She name checks President Obama, Beyonce and beyond.  Regardless of how famous they are or how frequently they appear on tv or in public, every interviewee she’s worked with looks for feedback after their tv appearance – ‘Was that OK?’  or ‘How did I do?’. Even at Bespoke, we don’t have to look too far to realise that’s true. Sarah has a tv career spanning two decades, and will readily admit to managing nerves before going on air.

Managing nerves

So it’s liberating to know that everyone feels nervous before appearing in public. Its not just you! Nerves come knocking to remind you that you care – that you want your words to mean something to those that hear them.   Giving a speech requires that you open yourself up, even just a little.   Your audience wants to get to know you and what makes you tick.  And when you’re being yourself, and showing empathy, then it’s natural to want the respect and approval of your audience.  Let’s face it, it’s a basic building block of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Your preparation process

The great news is that your nerves can be harnessed to help your performance rather than hinder it.    You can use the principles of performance psychology to develop a preparation process to help you when you’re called upon to present in public.  Identifying the source of your anxiety and breaking it down into skills to be mastered is the first step.  For some people, that means practicing a killer opening.  For others, it’s about structuring their content so that they get their message across more easily.  And many people just want to focus on the pace of delivery. Finding low-risk situations to help you to practice those skills is key.  Giving yourself the opportunity to practice, knowing that you’ll make mistakes is the best way to learn and improve. Your preparation process is very different to your performance process when you’re on stage with all eyes on you.

Your performance process

Your performance process will be unique to you, but here are some tried and tested techniques to help you on the day.  There’s something in here that you can adapt and make your own.  Here’s Sarah talking with Denis McNeill on Q Radio recently about the Speakeasy Club, and how to overcome public speaking nerves.  With the right tactics, you’ll master those nerves to give a great performance every time!