Number 1 Fear

Download a handy PDF of these tips and a whole page of extra tips from speakers from around the globe.

This is my 21st year of Professional Speaking, and when you’ve been doing something that long, people are bound to ask you questions, right? Of all the questions people ask me about Speaking, ‘how to kill nerves’ has got to be the No.1 by far. Apparently the fear of public speaking is in the top 5 fears, along with DEATH?

The first thing to do is to remember : IT IS NOT ABOUT YOU. Nervous Speakers are too often caught up in their own head, being their own worst enemy and have lost sight of the fact that they are simply a vehicle for the message they are gifting to the audience. When you remember you’re SERVING the audience and you’ve been put on the conference program by the event planner who has done their research and chosen YOU – you’ve earned the right to be on that stage.

When I’m coaching Speakers, I find a combination of breathing, preparation and strategy to be the perfect antidote to nerves….

Breathing techniques

  • Totally under-rated: taking a few deep breaths as you are waiting in the wings. Speakers and Performers commonly say this is their number 1 go-to tip.
  • There are Speakers who have a ritual of tribal, loud, open-mouthed screaming and jumping up and down in the bathrooms before they go on stage. Sounds a bit Tony Robbins, but it certainly works for them! I tried it once but it wasn’t for me. How about you?
  • There’s a great NLP technique I learned from Colin James called Identify, Objectify, Banish where you take a moment to stop and recognise the feeling you’re having (Identify it).. then you bring it to life (Objectify) by imagining it as an object. He imagines a lizard on his shoulder. Finally you imagine the object disappearing (Banish).. you virtually flick it off your shoulder. This works to bring you back to the present and your breathing will automatically return to a calm pace.

Preparation, preparation, preparation

This sounds like a cliché but I wrote it 3 times to show how important it is. I’ve delivered over 500 talks in 21 years I’ve been Speaking and there have certainly been times where I’ve felt completely crushed about how it went. I’ve taken the stage full of nerves, stumbled through my talk, not been completely present and been determined not to take Q & A at the end in case someone stumped me.

The common denominator for every one of those talks has been a lack of preparation. I’m not talking about rehearsing your talk – if you’ve followed the 3 x 3 x 3 framework for writing a keynote you should truly be able to do a 40 minute talk without any notes at all.

To be totally prepared:

  • Research the client well: their challenges, the challenges of the people in the audience, the industry. More often than not, I will ask the client to put me in touch with 3-5 people who are likely to be in the audience for my talk so I can talk directly with them about their challenges.
  • Research your topic as it relates to this audience. For example if I’m talking about Social Media for Independent Cinemas, I’ll spend hours researching what Independent Cinemas are doing around the world, looking for great case studies, remarkable ideas, I’ll look outside the industry into others like Independent booksellers or boutique clothing stores to spark ideas.
  • It is always my preference to arrive at the conference the night before my talk so I have a chance to attend other talks and, most importantly, mingle with the delegates at welcome parties/events or even morning tea breaks so I can understand the sorts of conversations they are having with each other and ask a few questions about their day to day challenges. I will then weave these into my speech where relevant.

Panels & Facilitated Interviews

If you’ve ticked all of the boxes above, you’re still overthinking things and unable to reduce your anxiety further, there is a magic trick you can pull out of your hat : ask the event organiser if you can be part of a Panel or if the MC can interview you instead. You can provide the MC with 5-10 questions as a guide they can use to draw out all the insights you were planning to put into your presentation. This is the fail-safe way to get you up onto that stage.

Download a handy PDF of these tips and a whole page of extra tips from speakers from around the globe, grab my guide.

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