Terrified of public speaking? Just sweat the small stuff
Public speaking can be an emotional maelstrom. There're just SO MANY things to remember, focus, and concentrate on. And there can be so many things flying at you all at once to distract you. I know, I've been that quivering mess – sweating, stammering, wobbling at the knees.
And it's these little things – alone or in combination – that can cause you and your audience to lose sight of the big picture. They can't be ignored. They must be faced and defeated.
But good news! Many of these nervous symptoms can be conquered quickly, simply, and with little cost or effort. Try these easy and effective hacks:
On-the-day body hacks
1. Butterflies? Breathe in deeply and slowly, relax and hold, breathe out slowly... and keep doing this until chilled.
2. Dry mouth? Just add water. A few sips beforehand is usually all you need (but do take a bottle or glass up with you).
· Trouble swallowing? This is a secondary symptom of dry mouth. Again, sips of water should do the trick.
· Coughing? A further complication of dry mouth. Let each sip linger a bit longer in the back of your mouth/top of your throat. Gargle. And always carry a pack of cough drops/lozenges with you. If you actually have a cold or flu, bring your medication and take at least 30 mins prior to presenting. If you're a smoker, you might want to switch to patches/gum/lozenges on the day.
3. Sweating? There's nothing more offputting than sweaty pits. You are wearing your fear on your sleeve – literally – for all to see. Wear a short-sleeved t-shirt under your regular top. And no, muscle shirts and tank tops won't help. A trip to the bathroom to give them a wipe before the show can help. So can a healthy spray of industrial-strength antiperspirant
· Sweaty palms? Not really a big deal, unless you have to shake a lot of hands before or afterward. Carry a paper or cotton tissue in your hands before and after to soak up excess moisture.
4. Shaking, hands? If you must read from your script, use index cards, not sheets of paper. Large leaves of paper only amplify each tiny shake into an A4 earthquake. Even a small twitch or tremble can make you look way more jittery than you actually are.
6. Trembling legs? Or "Elvis Leg" as it's sometimes called. Stand still, with your weight evenly balanced. A steady, balanced stance will lend you an air of authority. Don't even try to move, walk, or work the room. That's a skill that can come later. For now, hold still and hold firm.
7. Body Freeze? Stiffness in your neck, back, or facial muscles? This can make you look robotic and unnatural on stage. Loosen up beforehand – stretching, clenching, and releasing the problem areas for at least a minute. This really works. If you have a buddy who can give you a quick shoulder rub or neck massage – go for it!
9. Brain Freeze? Avoid ice-cream. OK, not helpful. The best solutions?
· Pause. Breathe. Relax. Take a sip of water.
· Pause. Repeat your last sentence. Slowly. With emphasis. This can help trigger your memory for the next line.
· Pause. Ask the audience if they have any questions. This will give you time to regather your thoughts.
If you do any of these, in most cases, the audience will be oblivious to what is going on (or not going on) inside your head.
10. Umming, aahing? There's no magic sword or silver bullet but it can be cured with practice. Ask a friend to record your prezzo on video and then review it. Watch, noting when and how your umms and aahs occur. Your best attack is to become aware of each nervous tic.
· When and where do they happen?
· How often?
· Is there a pattern?
You may find they happen when you are stringing two thoughts or sentences together. Learn to replace them with pauses and silence. In actual fact, the silence between those thoughts can be golden. A pause sounds better than a gaff.11. Talking too fast? This can happen a lot when you're nervous. Often, when we rehearse, we tend to rehearse "in our heads". Our brains can process words faster than our mouths can say them. So our internal timing sets an artificially fast pace, that we can never deliver in public.
· Rehearse out loud (see our previous blog on 'finding your unique voice').
This will entrench a more natural speed and rhythm.
· Slow. It. Down. Repeat this mental mantra.
· Try to inject a deliberate pause at the end of each sentence
12. Nausea? Don't eat before your prezzo. Stick to water. But make to empty your bladder (and bowels) beforehand.
13. Vomiting? As above. But if you gotta go. Go!
Better out than in.
And better before the show than during.
And one other helpful on-the-day hack: Case the joint.
Especially if you're presenting in an unfamiliar place.
· Get there early
· Wander around and familiarise yourself
· Sit where the audience will be and get a feel for how YOU will look onstage
· Plug in and check that all your devices are working. Check the internet connection too.
· Test the sound, the projector, the lighting, even the air-con.
· Get up on stage and do a little practice rehearsal – your first one of two slides – pretend that you just want to do a sound-check. Familiarity breeds comfort.
So that's the basics covered.
Forewarned is forearmed, so get prepared and get presenting.