I’m a nervous public speaker and I suffer from confidence problems. What can I do to feel, appear and act less nervous and also deliver a good speech? John, 41, lawyer
Confident public speaking begins in the head. “The first thing to work on is the inner game,” says Amanda Vickers, managing director of Speak First, a training and coaching service (www.speak-first.com). “If you say, ‘oh, I’m hopeless at this’, it’s going to go wrong. You need a mindset that says: ‘I can do this really well.’ Remember you’ve been invited to speak because you have something valuable to offer.”
Vickers reminds people that missing something out or getting something wrong is far from the end of the world – all it means is that someone will ask a question, which is a good thing. “When something goes wrong, try to frame it as an opportunity to learn something useful. There is no such thing as failure.”
Dominic Alldis, who talks to businesses about music as a metaphor for leadership (www.speakersassociates.com), says clarity and purpose is paramount. “Begin by stating your purpose for being there, what you’re going to do with the time. People feel reassured when they know what’s going to happen. Then limit your talk to three or four basic points. That makes it far easier to leave people with what you really want them to remember. And people really appreciate speakers who don’t go over their time limits.”
Preparation is key. A logical flow of speech is crucial for good delivery. But Vickers says that detailed notes can actually trip you up as you struggle to stick to them. Bullet points inspire more confidence as they are less binding and give you a chance to engage properly with the audience, so spend your time on choosing them.
Familiarity with the venue is crucial for making you feel comfortable. “Determine your needs,” reminds Alldis, “such as audio-visual equipment, a glass of water. Envisage the audience reacting to what you’re saying. This will help you feel ready.”
Deep breathing will help with nerves. To relax your vocal chords, which make you sound high-pitched when you’re nervous, Vickers suggests cleaning your teeth with your tongue. Shaking your hands vigorously also relaxes your shoulder and neck area. Stand up straight, speak slowly and take plenty of deep breaths and you’ll see how your delivery improves.