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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!

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Speaker masterclass from Joe Schmidt, Ireland Rugby Head Coach – #BeMoreJoe

speaker Joe Schmidt Ireland Rugby

I’m a big fan of Dan Pink, author of ‘To Sell is Human’, TED speaker and all-round irreverent dispenser of great business advice. I watched a video recently where he gave his viewers a top tip – ‘Make sure you leave people full of energy after an encounter with you’. I recently heard Joe Schmidt address the Londonderry Chamber’s President’s Breakfast as keynote speaker. After the event at the Everglades Hotel, I felt ready to take on the world.

There is no question that Joe Schmidt has the ability to energise and has used it to lead Ireland Rugby through thick and thin. And whilst Bespoke Communications always has an eye to leadership, and might even watch a rugby match or two, we’re in the business of developing expert communicators. So what top tips could we take away from Joe’s speech to pass on in our next Presentation Skills workshop?

Gavin Killeen, Londonderry Chamber of Commerce President and Joe Schmidt, Ireland Rugby Head Coach with Bespoke Communication's Camilla Long

Gavin Killeen, Londonderry Chamber of Commerce President and Joe Schmidt, Ireland Rugby Head Coach with Bespoke Communication’s Camilla Long

Think of your audience

Think of your audience.Above all, Joe had an audience of business leaders from Londonderry Chamber. We heard a speech peppered with rugby anecdotes, but they were always used to illustrate a leadership behaviour in the workplace.  My top take-away was – ‘always invest in your subs’. How many of you can remember matches where the star performers had to leave the pitch ? Then the subs have to step up and carry the match.  Everyone has a role to play in the workplace too.

Connect emotionally

Make me care. We won’t all be lucky enough to have epic stories of sporting prowess to call on when we do our next presentation at the weekly management meeting. So what? Joe dug deep and spoke of the lows as well, very public losses where his leadership was questioned. Tactics for resilience in the face of defeat may be even more relevant to business leaders in our complex world. Joe made a connection with his audience with stories we could identify with . His message will sing long after he’s left the room.

Win our trust

Did Joe build trust as a speaker? Absolutely. There was congruence between his words and the stories he told. He smiled, took in everyone in the room, paced his speech and was expressive in his delivery. Most of all, we loved how he wove his speech back around to lay down the gauntlet to Gavin Killeen, Londonderry Chamber President. Gavin had delivered an empassioned speech of his own directly beforehand. But that’s a blog for another day! After Gavin and Joe’s speeches, we’ll all try to play our part in helping future generations of young people.

After that masterclass, we think that we should all #BeMoreJoe when we stand up to speak! And the great news is that speaking is a skill, not a talent. If you feel like your speaking skills are a bit out of date, check these resources to find approaches to making your next speech more compelling.