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Solving the Problem of Prespeech Jitters

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Q: How do you handle the anticipation of waiting your turn to make a speech?

A: Many participants ask this question in every single speaking class I teach. There are more facets to this question that you may realize, including mental, logistical, and physical components.

One of the best ways to handle the anticipation of speaking is to make sure you are mentally prepared beforehand. Understand that there is always a lot more preparation time than speaking time. Once you are an experienced speaker, you can literally look at a sheet you have to report on, stand up, and do it. If you are not an experienced speaker, it obviously won't be that easy. Here's a general rule. If you are going to speak for half an hour, you should invest at least three hours in preparation time.

Also, completely memorize your opening and closing three or four sentences. So even if you work from a bullet outline, you can connect with the audience at the time of most nervousness, and know what you are going to say fluently.

In terms of logistics, go to the room early so that you are comfortable in the environment you are going to speak in. If you are speaking on a stage, as at a convention, go early in the morning when no one is in the room and get comfortable -- make friends with the stage.

Another technique to help cope with anticipation is to shake hands and make eye contact with everybody if you are speaking to a small meeting. For larger meetings, meet and shake hands with people in the front row at least, and some of the people as they are coming in the door. We as speakers are rarely nervous about individuals, we are only nervous when faced with the thought of an entire audience. When you have met the audience of 10 or the front row in a large group, and you have connected with them personally, they become less scary. Also, when you take time to personally connect with the audience, they will be rooting for your success.

In terms of handling physical tension before a speech, understand that it is natural to be nervous. Try this acting technique. Wave your hands in the air, relax your jaw, and shake your head from side to side. Then shake your legs one at a time. Of course this often has to be done in the privacy of the bathroom, but this technique will help physically shake out the tension in your body.

Don't get stuck sitting down too much right before speaking. If you are going to speak an hour into the agenda, sit in the back of the room so that for some portion of that hour you can stand up. It is difficult to immediately jump into your presentation and be dynamic when you have been sitting down and relaxed. Robin Williams is well known for doing jumping jacks before going on stage to raise his energy level.

Sitting in the back of the room allows you easy access to the bathroom before a speech. Winston Churchill gave good advice: Before giving a speech, go to the bathroom. If you are going to be nervous, you are likely going to have to run frequently to the bathroom. If you're at the front of the room, you may not be able to do that.

Patricia Fripp is a San Francisco-based executive speech coach and professional speaker on change, teamwork, customer service,promoting business, and communication skills. She isthe author of Make It, So You Don't Have to Fake It and Get What You Want! Fripp also served as president of the National Speakers Association. She can be contacted via e-mail, at 800-634-3035, or through her Web site Fripp.com.

Copyright © 2000 Patricia Fripp

Last updated: May 11, 2000




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