I have to speak and I’m freaking out (Three tips to calm the nerves)

You’re not really scared, but for some reason your hands are shaking. You’re instantly regretting wearing white because the sweat is quickly revealing all that glory hidden underneath. Your chest starts to get tight and breathing becomes a little more rapid and difficult. You doubt your content. And now for some unknown reason you become more aware of your hands than ever before. What do I do with these things normally? Are they by my side, or are they just out in front of me? My God what do I do with my hands”.

I know that feeling well. I have and still do experience it. But it doesn’t have to stop you. 

If you’ve ever seen somebody deliver a great presentation or speech and thought to yourself “that just looked so effortless for them”, I can assure you, that person has experienced those same feelings of anxiousness and doubt at some point. It’s a popular stat that over 74% of people experience some type of speech anxiety. I would say that other 26% are lying. 

In my ‘Lead the Room™’ training and coaching I work with participants to unpack 3 simple ideas to help calm the nerves:

1.) Recognise

What is going on in your head? What are you saying to yourself in those moments before getting up to speak? 

Chances are those thoughts sound something like “Don’t stuff this up”, “What if people laugh at me” or “I’m not as good as the last speaker”. These are normal, but not helpful.

We need to assess how maintaining this type of unhelpful thinking will benefit us? You’ll quickly find that it rarely does.

Once we are able to recognise unhelpful thinking it’s time to reframe it. 

2.) Reframe 

Our words can be destructive or constructive. Negative self talk can dismantle our confidence. Once we identify our immediate unhelpful thoughts we need to reframe these into more helpful, constructive thoughts. How can you reframe some of your thoughts to be more helpful? 

Instead of saying “Don’t stuff this up”, we need to recognise that we are imperfect and all make mistakes. Falling short of a perfect standard doesn’t mean you’re terrible, it means you’re human. Try something like “I’m well rehearsed and even if I make a mistake, that’s ok, it just means I’m human, I don’t need to beat myself up over it”. 

Instead of saying “I’m not as good as the last speaker”, try “I really respect the way that last speaker spoke, but I am unique and bring my own valuable contribution, so I will just be me”. 

Watch how reframing negative thinking can create more helpful outcomes. 

And then finally, it’s time to Refocus. 

3.) Refocus 

Be more in the room than you are in your head. Put simply, think about yourself less. Our phones today have both a front facing and a rear facing camera. We have so much self doubt and anxiety around speaking because we spend too much time looking through the selfie camera. Wondering how we will perform. What if we flipped the camera and started looking at the people we are speaking to. How can we best help them, how can we best serve their needs, how does what I have to say benefit these people. Take a minute away from rehearsing and go start a conversation and connect with the people you are about to speak with, you’ll find the nerves start to settle.

My approach to this stems from my background in counselling and draws on some of the strengths I see in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. If you want to dive deeper, Avy Joseph has a great book on CBT you can find here

I’d love to hear more about how you cope with the nerves when speaking. Or maybe you’d like to talk more about coaching in this area for you or someone you know, feel free to get in touch and let’s continue the conversation.