People often ask me if I still get nervous before I speak, even after over twenty years as a speaker and college teacher.
The answer: Heck yea, I do!
I have always had speaking anxiety. In fact, I get anxious in most new social situations period. I'm an introvert, after all, and many of us feel this way. (By the way, I know extroverts who feel this way, too.) And this hasn't in any way hampered my success as a speaker, trainer or teacher. In fact, I would argue that it has enhanced my presentation skills. But only because I learned how to manage and harness the energy behind that anxiety.
The anxiety has evolved over the years. I have developed a sort of ritual that helps me shift that extra energy in my body into fuel for a high-energy, engaging presentation. After hundreds of progressively more successful presentations, I have a great deal of confidence in my speaking. The cool thing about this (aside from easing the discomfort of too much anxiety), is that this kind of confidence leads to even better presentations.
I'd love to offer you more confidence, too – even if you don't have twenty years of standing in front of audiences behind you. Good news – I can! (hooray!)
I'm going to keep these tips simple because I want you to use them. I don't want you to get overwhelmed by too much detail or explanation because they really are this simple. (I'll give you references at the end of this article so you can learn more about why they work.)
Just do these few things in your next talk (or really any social situation) and you will feel what I mean. Your body will relax and your energy will shift into peaceful power mode. You will be clearer and more ready for action. You will feel more confident. (There is research to back this up, by the way. But your body will show you real time most powerfully of all.)
Here are your simple immediate confidence-building tips:
- Prep with a Power Pose. Before your next talk (or potential client meeting or interview), take yourself somewhere where you will have privacy for two minutes. Then, stand with your legs at least 8 inches apart and put your arms above your head in the biggest “V” you can create. Basically, make yourself as large as possible with your body. Back straight, head and neck long and chin forward just a bit. Add a smile to your face. Stand like that for two minutes. Then, drop your hands and head out the door. Congratulations, you just literally changed the chemistry in your body closer to that of a high-powered, confident leader.
- Stop, Look & Smile. As you walk to the front of the room for your next talk, stop for a full 10-15 seconds and make eye contact with people in every section of the room. You don't have to be intense about it – just eye contact for a 2-3 seconds each person with a small smile. After this confident, highly engaged connection, say a simple “Hello” to your audience. Then launch into your talk. Research shows that eye contact increases others' perception of your confidence. My own experience has shown me that this small, simple ritual results in warm smiles and stronger attention from my audience, which always increases my confidence as I begin speaking.
- Take Belly Breaths. I know – if you read my blog at all, you've heard me talk about this over and over again. But that's only because this is the most magical immediate strategy ever for dealing with all kinds of anxiety and stuckness. And the thing is, when we minimize our anxiety, we increase our confidence. So, take a deep belly breath before you stand to walk to the front of the room and one along the way. You don't have to be dramatic about it. Just breath in through your nose, take that breath past your chest (this takes training for many of us who are chest breathers) and lead it all the way into your belly. Make your belly distend a bit as you take that breath in. Then, let it all out slowly through your nose. Toss a tiny smile onto the edges of your mouth as you exhale. (Smiling has its own stress-reducing magic – which is why I add it on to each of these items. More on that in a future article.)
I use every single one of these strategies to some degree every single time I speak. I walk all of my speaking clients through them as well. Now you have them! I know they will serve you beautifully as you get out there and share your brilliance in front of audiences wherever you are. Let me know how it goes!
(If you'd like to see the very cool research on power poses, go here to see Amy Cuddy's excellent TED talk and here to read her research study.)