How to Manage your Nerves before a Big Speech

Lifelong Learning UK Conference 2009: The Power of Lifelong Learning: Inovation During a Recovery? At Kings Place, London. Photo shows Paul Sloane, author and speaker on lateral thinking, innovation and leadership.

Does the idea of giving an important speech or presentation make you nervous? You would not be alone. Most people feel anxious about standing on a stage in front of a large audience.  Here are some tips to help you prepare for and handle the big occasion.

  1.  Focus on the one central message you want to get across.  If you wanted the audience to remember just one sentence from your talk what would it be? Concentrate on that and make the start, middle and end support and build that message.
  2.  Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.  In particular practise and memorise your opening and closing lines.  You can refer to notes as prompts for all the rest but it is important that you look the audience in the eye at the beginning and the end.
  3.  Do not load up PowerPoint Slides with lots of data.  You might think it will help but it won’t.  If the audience is reading your slides then they are not listening to you.  Use PowerPoint to illustrate points and to reinforce key messages – but not to convey detailed text.
  4.  Before you go on stage breathe deeply to help you calm down.
  5.  Stride purposely onto the stage.  Stand tall. Fake confidence with confident body language.
  6.  Wait until everyone is silent and watching you.
  7.  Smile.
  8.  Start with a bang.  An amazing fact. A personal story. A provocative question or a remarkable quote.  Something with real impact which grabs their attention.  Never start with an apology or a mumbled statement about how pleased you are to be there.
  9.  Speak slowly and with enthusiasm.  Many nervous speakers rush and garble their talk so slow down a little and look up at the audience.
  10.  Pause before a major point.
  11.  Remember that the audience wants you to succeed; they are on your side.  No-one wants you to give a poor talk.  They want to hear something interesting,  relevant and useful – so give it to them.
  12.  Conclude with a clear confident restatement of your key point or call to action.  Smile and accept any applause. Do not rush off the stage; savour the moment.

And one final important tip.  Don’t think of yourself as nervous.  Think of yourself as excited to have this great opportunity.

More great tips in this ebook:



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4 thoughts on “How to Manage your Nerves before a Big Speech

  1. Join a Toastmasters Club – no not red coats, but a Public Speaking and Leadership organisation – Toastmasters Internationsl

    Learn speaking and leadership skills in a friendly and nurturing environment.

  2. I always started with a joke. You could see the audience visibly shift and relax, and they gets you into your stride. The larger the audience, the better it works.

    As for PowerPoint, I found that slides that had a major graphical element pulled the audience attention – with minimal (or better, no) text.

    The last company I worked for specialised in slides with huge amounts of data – so much so that any meaning or call to action was lost because the audience could make their own mind up about how the data should be interpreted (and you’ll always get the awkward sod who is looking for outliers). Suffice to say, little was achieved from those presentations (at least in my opinion)

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