“There are two types of speakers. Those who get nervous and those who are liars.” – Mark Twain
Public speaking is the number one fear in America, according to the Wall Street Journal; death is number two.
But fear of public speaking is also a fear of death-an emotional death. We feel naked and exposed in front of an audience. We think people are going to scrutinize everything we say and do. We dread confronting the possibility of rejection.
Here are three tips for reducing speaking nervousness:
- Don’t expect perfection from yourself. None of us are perfect, yet when it comes to public speaking, some of us tend to kick ourselves over every little perceived mistake we make. We magnify our imperfections while ignoring all that’s good and well.
The truth is, even the best, most experienced speakers make many mistakes. When they do, they recover, continue gracefully and all is well. This is one of the keys to public speaking success: to continue gracefully. The audience will never know most of your mistakes, unless you halt your speech, break down and confess them. Carry on with poise. Give yourself permission not to be perfect.
- Avoid equating public speaking to your self-worth. If you’re reading this article, you’re probably a successful professional who has worked hard to get to where you are today. Public speaking is only a small part of your overall professional ability. If you’re not confident at it, there are many ways to help you improve. I’ve seen otherwise intelligent and capable professionals shrivel up on stage, as if suddenly nothing about them is right. Whether you’re good at public speaking has nothing to do with your worth as a person. It’s simply a skill that you can learn and become better at with practice.
- Avoid being nervous about your nervousness. Singer-songwriter Bruce Springsteen, legendary for his live concert performances, once observed that if he felt completely relaxed before a show, he wouldn’t perform as well as if he had felt nervous. Springsteen knows how to channel his nervousness into excitement and power on stage.
Speakers who lack confidence often feel nervous, and then on top of that feel anxious about the fact that they’re nervous, which compounds the anxiety. That’s a lot of stress to bear.
Nervousness is our adrenaline flowing, that’s all. It’s a form of energy. Successful speakers know how to make this energy work for them and turn nervousness into enthusiasm, engagement and charisma. They have fun with it. It’s okay to be nervous. Make the energy work for you.
I will discuss tips for increasing public speaking confidence in a future column.
Preston Ni is a professor of communication studies, Fortune 500 trainer, executive coach, and organizational change consultant. His column appears the first Friday of every month. Write to Preston at firstname.lastname@example.org, and access free resources at nipreston.com. © 2008 by Preston C. Ni. All rights reserved.