It is normal that you feel a surge of nervous energy right before you speak before a group of people, whether it’s a small team meeting at work or a large audience in a hall or a Zoom call. Your body reacts instinctively to being the focus of so many people, kicking off your “fight-or-flight” response, as I mentioned in an earlier post here.
With time, as you practice being the center of attention, your nervousness likely will decrease. You may never become as comfortable giving a speech as a long-time politicians, but that doesn’t matter. What is important is that you learn to handle your nervous energy to the point where it doesn’t hinder your effectiveness. Believe it or not, you may eventually find that a little nervousness actually helps.
Honest. It can help you as a public speaker. But that’s for down the road.
In the next few posts I will share some basic tips that can help you control your nervous energy. These tips will help you no matter what the situation is — whether the presentation is informal or formal, the audience is small or large, co-workers, friend or family, or anything else.
These are things you can and should adapt as part of your daily routine. They will definitely help before a presentation, but they will also help you feel better in general.
I suspect every child has been told to “stand up straight” at some point. And that is good advice. Doing so allows your body to “breathe” more easily, and you cast off more positive vibes when you stand up straight. People will see you as more confident, and will react that way to you. It will become a positive-feedback loop that and reduce your nervousness.
I didn’t realize this for a long time. I was a sloucher as a teenager and college student. I am way above average in height at almost six feet, six inches, and during those awkward teenage years when I wanted to fit in I had a slouched posture. My slouching was reinforced at parties and bars, where I would have to stoop over to hear what people were saying.
It wasn’t until I was out of college and working that I came to understand that at my height there was no way I was ever going to be able to hide in the crowd (except, maybe, at an NBA player meeting). I am just too noticeable.
I figured since I couldn’t hide, I might as well walk tall — especially when I was sent out as a reporter to an interview or the scene of an accident. I realized that people actually responded to me more when my back was straight. Even though I was nervous inside, they saw my posture as confidence. Even CEOs, I noticed, seemed to treat me with more respect.
Try it for a few weeks and you will see the difference.
But proper posture is more than just standing up straight and tall.
Let’s talk about the other end of the body.
For the best balance, your feet should point straight be able shoulder length apart.
Practice standing like that at all times — and certainly when you are giving presentations — and you will feel more comfortable because your body won’t be fighting itself. You may think you are more comfortable when you are leaning on one hip, or standing cross-legged, but what you are doing is forcing your body to work hard to counteract the imbalance you are creating. That will create more nervous energy that you don’t need.
By the way, standing cross-legged is never a good idea when you are giving a presentation anyway. It is too distracting. I remember one time at a Toastmaster meeting when a newcomer got up to give a five-minute speech. She stood with her legs crossed the entire time, and more than one of us in the audience stoppied paying attention to what she was saying because we were wondering whether she was about to topple over!
It’s pretty simple.
Stand up straight with your feet pointing forward shoulder-length apart will help you combat nervous energy and you will appear more confident to your audience.