Speaker toolkit – part one: making nerves your friend

We are really excited to be starting our first ever “toolkit series”, delivered to you through our monthly newsletter, which you can sign up to here.

The first series will be our Speaker Toolkit, which will include advice on how to deal with nerves and build your confidence, ideas on how to connect with your audience, practical tips on using visuals and much more. We will also post the series on our blog as it’s sent out via our newsletter.

Butterflies in your stomach. Sweaty palms. Feeling too hot. These are just some of the ways people tell us they feel before speaking in public.

For some, nerves can be ignored, but for others, nerves can put you off public speaking at all costs. Regardless of how you feel, it is likely that at some point you are going to need to present and speak in public, so how can you learn to manage and eventually overcoming these feelings? Here are some steps that we’ve found to be effective in making nerves your friend:

1. Re-frame your nerves
The physiological feelings of nervousness are remarkably similar to those of being excited. When you’re excited you may also feel light-headed, sweaty and generally a bit jittery. Start re-framing these physical feelings of nerves in your mind to the physical feelings of being excited. By pushing the dial from nervousness to excitement, you will also slowly draw out some of the joy in what you are going to talk about. It’s important to be reminded that your purpose for speaking is actually much more positive than the negative and scary feelings of nervousness.

2. Mantras
In a similar vein, mantras are also a great way to re-frame nerves. Mantras are short phrases that are individual to each person, but serve to give you perspective. Repeating a mantra to yourself with positive feelings behind it helps to combat the voice in your head that assumes because you feel “bad” then everything must be about to go terribly wrong.

3. Rituals
Many comedians and performers will have a particular ritual they do before going on stage. Rituals are specific to individuals, but can include things like breathing exercises, finding a quiet space and rehearsing, having a cup of coffee, talking to specific friends, stretching, or meditating. Your ritual can help get you into the zone, make you feel prepared and generally calm your nerves. Test out a ritual next time you speak and then build on it each time after that to find what is right for you.

4. Your voice is valuable
Sometimes you may want to avoid speaking in public altogether, because feeling nervous is so unpleasant and what you have to say “isn’t all that important anyway”. Wrong! The world will be worse off if you don’t share your knowledge and ideas. Your voice – along with the thousands of other voices from people who are also nervous about public speaking – is valuable. It’s only by us listening to all these unheard voices that we can ever hope to tackle the societal issues we have today. Sometimes even if we cannot speak for ourselves, it can be a real motivation to speak for the benefit of others – we all have an obligation to share our ideas and knowledge with the world.

5. Have a safety net
One of the most common concerns we hear is “what if I forget what I’m going to say?” Nervousness can sometime make you lose your train of thought or you can get lost in your own words. Pausing or having a drink of water can definitely help. But we recommend having a safety net, a note or prompt in your pocket, which can help reassure and remind you of what to say next. For instance, you could have the three most important points or the basic structure of your talk ready on an index card. Most likely you won’t need it, but if you do, it is there.

6. No one wants you to fail
Remember the audience are on your side! It is extremely rare that an audience wants the worst possible things to happen to you onstage. Not only is it unpleasant for them if you are having a terrible experience, they already care about what you are saying to have turned up in the first place. Look for that friendly face in audience and direct your talk towards them. Once you can see your talk is being received positively, it will put you at ease.

7. Keep doing it
This might be the most difficult piece of advice. But the most effective way to overcome your nervousness and become more confident when speaking in public is to keep doing it. Practice and preparation are essential and so is saying yes to more opportunities to speak, in order for you to hone and refine your skill. We believe everyone has the ability to speak confidently without feeling nervous, as long as you work at it.

Check out our video below, where Maryam explains more about making nerves your friends, and, in particular, what to do onstage if those nerves start to get the better of you.

We hope you enjoy the first instalment and if you have ideas for future toolkits, or enjoy using some of our advice, we’d love to hear from you.