The only time I remember being really, really nervous when I was speaking in public was when I was 13-years-old and running for student council. I had to give a speech in front of the whole school, and my hands were shaking so bad I could barely hold onto my notes.
After that, I took several speech and drama classes, and I became more comfortable being in front of others.
Over the years, I've also learned that a little nervousness can be a good thing because it keeps you sharp. But I've also learned that preparation is key, as you'll see from this latest column I did for Gannett/USA Today....
Some people make public speaking seem so easy.
They make just the right hand gestures at just the right time, use just the right tone of voice, provide a super PowerPoint presentation and conclude with a riveting message that has the audience leaping to its feet and applauding.
But for many people, speaking in public can be a nerve-wracking, knee-knocking experience that leaves them with clammy hands and a churning stomach. It doesn't matter if the presentation is in front of a small group of people or a major speech in a large auditorium, the heart-pounding anxiety is the same.
If you're nervous speaking publicly, you're not alone.
While some nervousness can keep you focused, being too anxious can undermine your efforts.
If you're so nervous that you begin reading your PowerPoint slides in a monotone instead of trying to connect with your audience, then your professional reputation could take a hit or you might lose an important client.
You can manage your nerves in several ways, says Darlene Price, who has coached thousands of executives and professionals on how to improve their public speaking techniques.
"Fear is what drives nervousness," Price says. "For extroverts, fear of embarrassing themselves in front of others is what drives their nervousness while for introverts it's that fear of not being perfect."
You can master your fear of public speaking in several ways, she says. The most common mistake is not prepping for the audience.
"If people would just take the time -- while they're walking the dog or taking a shower -- to just practice out loud what they want to say, it would help them be better prepared," she says.
Price says that those who get nervous should look for strategies that better help them manage their fears. Among her suggestions:
-- Visualize it. Close your eyes and see the space where you'll be speaking.
See yourself walking out with a big smile on your face. Visualize yourself saying the first few lines of speech and looking out into the audience.
"The brain doesn't know the difference between vividly imagined events or a real events," she says. "Get all your senses involved. Hear yourself speaking. See the people."
-- List 10 "I am" statements. This is an exercise that Price finds effective for clients.
She has each one come up with a list of affirming statements, such as "I am confident," and "I am in touch with my audience." Price videotapes the person saying the statements over and over until they say them with confidence.
She then plays back the exercise so the clients can see themselves saying the phrases with confidence.
-- Smile and breathe. "While this sounds easy, it's not," Price says.
"But if you're smiling, it releases chemicals from the brain that calm the body," she says. "It also shows your audience you're relaxed. It's a much more powerful technique than it sounds." Breathing deeply can relax you as it floods the brain with oxygen.
-- Memorize your opening. It's a good idea to memorize and rehearse the first minutes of a presentation so you're not focused on slides or notes, your head is up and your eyes are connecting with your audience.
-- Toss something to the audience. After your opening statement, find a way to engage the audience, such as asking them to raise their hands in response to a question.
"You want something that puts the attention on them and at the same time, relieves you a little bit while they're thinking about themselves," Price says
Price, author of Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results, (Amacom, $21.95), says she encourages people not to be afraid of sharing their knowledge and ideas publicly.
"I know that there is a highly talented communicator in each person. We all have something to share. Don't die with the music inside you," she says.