Public speaking nerves? Believe me, I could write the definitive account…

Why? Because my first public speaking ‘engagement’ was a genuine, one hundred percent baptism of fire.

I was eleven years old. I was a very shy altar boy. And in those (bad old) days only men (and boys) were allowed to read the lessons in my church. Which was a convent chapel. In a girls’ school. For girls between the ages of 11 and 16.

About 400 of them.

One the nuns thought it would be a wonderful idea for me to do the readings. ‘Such a nice, clear voice!’ So I did. With my inner lizard pumping me full of adrenalin. Legs trembling. Mouth dry. Sweat beading above my lips…

All the classic symptoms of stage fright, in fact.

Which – if you’ve read my earlier post – you already know how to control. (And if you haven’t why not take a look?)

I got plenty of encouragement, of course – just not a lot of training. No advice about breathing, for instance. And certainly not that useful tip about posture.

But there’s one additional tip that can really seal the deal. Though it absolutely would not have occurred to me at the time…

…and smile, smile, smile!

So you’re in position. You’re standing straight and tall. You’re breathing slowly – while all that adrenalin makes you hyper-alert and chock-full of energy.

But don’t rush. Before you open your mouth, look up. Look at your audience. And smile.

To them, it makes you look confident – someone they’ll like and want to listen to.

Someone, in other words, who isn’t terrified of public speaking.

And it’ll make you feel better, too!

If that sounds difficult, it doesn’t have to be. Hopefully there’s at least one person in the audience you know. Or, perhaps, someone you’ve spoken to who’s been friendly and supportive.Look at them when you smile, because it’s more than likely that they’ll smile back. Which may give you a much-needed boost.

And don’t stop there…

Once you’re up and running it’s terribly tempting to ‘stick to the script’. Almost literally. Almost as though your eyes aren’t capable of moving off the page (or the autocue). Even for a second.

Problem is, the audience will become aware of that. Perhaps not consciously, but they’ll know. And they’ll feel, somehow, that you’re not really engaging with them. So – to them – it’ll look as though those public speaking nerves are back on display. They’ll probably be sympathetic, but you don’t want them sympathetic. You want them attentive. Engaged. Interested.

So make sure you know what you’re going to say – whether or not it’s fully scripted. Be familiar enough with your material that you can afford to glance away from it sometimes. And use those moments to catch the eye of different people in the audience. (Try to make sure it’s not the same person every time!)

Why?

Well, for one thing it’ll encourage a reaction. And hopefully that will give you a quick measure of how your presentation is going. (Assuming it’s serious. And assuming you’re not intending to produce laughter…)

For another, it’ll boost your rapport with the audience. It’s worth remembering that they’ve paid to listen to you. (Even if all they’ve paid is the cost of getting to the venue.) They’ve come because they’re interested in your subject. So they’ll want you to succeed.

Keep smiling, and keep engaging with them – and you absolutely will.

Need a little help? With delivery – or, perhaps, with the words? Then drop me an email (or give us a call on 01449 740118) so we can meet for a coffee and chat.

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