Public speaking is one of those things that leaves some people weak in the knees. With wedding season and graduation on the horizon it may be time to start preparing that special speech. I know how stressful it can be to give a speech packed with humor, excitement and memories, all while shaking in your own heels. I was a maid of honor once and I wrote and rewrote my speech over and over again. I even practiced in front of the mirror! In the end it was fine but what an ordeal!
If you are tasked with giving a speech at a wedding, at work or even in front of the PTA — do not fear. Bill McGowan, author of “Pitch Perfect: How to Say It Right the First Time, Every time” has created this checklist just for us to help calm nerves and deliver a stellar speech.
Checklist for Overcoming the Pre-Speech Jitters
By Bill McGowan
Fear of public speaking is common, and it’s one of the topics people ask me about the most. To calm your nerves, do all of the following before and during your talk.
☐ Practice the beginning: Because the first two minutes of any presentation are when you’re most nervous, a strong, smooth opening will build confidence and help get rid of the butterflies. Know your opener as thoroughly as you know you birthdate. Even on your way to the venue or in the minutes before your talk, practice your opener out loud. This not only calms nerves, but it also prevents you from getting off to a slow start.
☐ Show up early. Get up on stage and get a feel of the room. Talk through the microphone and hear the sound of your voice.
☐ Think success. Don’t question whether your presentation will fly or allow doubt to creep into your thoughts. Don’t wonder if it’s good enough or if it will interest the audience. Instead, think of times you’ve delivered the material in the past and how much the audience loved it.
☐ Take a breath. Have you ever suffered from a trembling voice? It’s common, and it’s caused by something as simple as breathing. When we’re anxious and panicked, we forget to breathe properly. We take short, shallow breaths that raise the heart rate (that’s why it feels like it’s about to pound out of your chest) and deplete our lungs of the air we need to project the voice.
Plus, just walking onto stage can make you just slightly winded. If you don’t take a breath, once you start talking, you won’t be able to fully catch your breath. So walk onto stage, pause, take a deep breath, then start talking.
Then, during your talk, take long inhales through your nose, hold them for a beat or two, and then exhale long and slowly through your mouth. This calms you down, slows your pulse, and replenishes your lungs, restoring a stable and confident sound to your voice.
☐ Slow down. Everything in your body is going to tell you to hit the gas. Don’t. Slow way down and periodically pause to catch your breath and collect your thoughts.
☐ Find your biggest fan. Look for people in the audience who smile adoringly and nod like bobble-head dolls. If you’re speaking to a bigger audience, see if you can spot one in each quadrant of the room—near left, far left, near right, far right—and play to just those four people. They will boost your confidence immeasurably.