Handling nerves when public speaking
Yesterday I competed at my Toastmasters club’s annual Evaluation Contest. During this contest, you have a test speaker give a 5-7min speech and then we compete to give the best Evaluation to the Test Speaker.
While the judges votes were being counted, us 5 contestants were asked to come up to the stage and be interviewed. The question I was asked, was something along the lines of “How did you find the Evaluation Contest?” or “What was your experience in participating in the Evaluation Contest?”
And I answered truthfully. I said I was fine, up until 30 seconds before I had to deliver my evaluation.
Then my heart started racing. It’s like a switch flipped as soon as I had to enter the room to give my evaluation (we had to stand outside and wait our turn to give evaluations so we can’t cheat and copy the other evaluators).
It amazed me how one minute I was joking with the other contestants saying “Don’t forget us when you make it to the next level of the competition” and then next minute I can feel my heart racing and thinking “hmm, wonder what my Fitbit says my heart rate is right now”. I told the audience how I felt.
And they also knew I’ve been a Toastmaster for 4 years. When I said this, the audience seemed surprised that someone with that much experience still has to go through this when they’re up on stage.
I also had a few people come up to me after the meeting, saying they were surprised about how nervous I get because I don’t look nervous when I speak in public nowadays. But, for me, my body reacts the same way to public speaking as it did when I gave speeches in high school: the heart racing etc.
Over time I have learned to deal with my nerves.
Here are some things that have helped me handle my nerves when I speak in front of people.
Practice, practice, practice.
This, by far, has been the most helpful one (but it is definitely not a quick fix!). The fact I have spoken in public numerous times, in lectures in front of high school students and university students, teaching workshops, at conferences and in Toastmasters meetings - means that I’ve had a lot of opportunity to practice my public speaking skills in different environments. Public speaking DOES get easier with time.
Know that, when you have done it multiple times - you have a few moments of success behind you.
Remind yourself that you’ve done this before, you can do it again.
Accept that nerves aren’t necessarily a “bad thing”
It’s kind of like adrenaline. I feel like it “gets me pumped” to speak in front of people.
In Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk, she talks about Power Poses - more confident body language. To be honest, no idea if it works. But I have developed the habit.
Have a switch
This is a really really weird one, but it has worked well for me. It takes a lot of energy from me to be in large groups of people and to speak in front of a lot of people. So in the past few months I’ve developed a sort of “switch” to help me when I speak in public.
I distracted myself at the club contest last night by joking around with the other contestants, but if it’s before a speech or a conference, then I’ll do one of the following:
- Keep busy (e.g. at Toastmasters finish just focus on the here and now, and not on my upcoming role)
- Listen to podcasts - I do this before conferences or before speaking in front of students
- Read the news - I do this as well before conferences etc.