10 tips for conquering public speaking nerves

MT EXPERT: Even Prince Harry admits he finds public speaking nerve wracking, but there are ways to get through the fear, says Robin Kermode.

by Robin Kermode
Last Updated: 05 Feb 2015

Prince Harry admitted this week that he gets ‘incredibly nervous before public speaking, no matter how big the crowd or the audience’. Harry show his human side also underlines a fear that many of us have – public speaking.

So what’s the secret to success? Usually we are at our most nervous at the very beginning of a speech, so here are some practical ways to conquer your nerves head-on.

1. Push a wall

Before you give your speech, find somewhere where you can be alone for a couple of minutes and stand and face a wall. Place both hands on the wall about shoulder height and push really hard, as if you’re trying to push the wall a couple of metres. After pushing, stand normally and try speaking out loud. See how much more relaxed your voice sounds.

2. Stick your tongue out

Next, stick your tongue out as far as it will go and try to say the whole of the Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme out loud. This will open the back of the throat, making you sound more confident. The effects should last five minutes or so – great for the start of a speech.

3. Breathe

Lastly, breathe in through your nose very slowly for a count of three. Then breathe out though your nose for a count of three. Repeat this three times - it should take you a total of 18 seconds. In this time you will have significantly lowered your heart rate, so when you start to speak you won’t sound like an express train.

Then, when you get up to speak…

4. Squeeze your buttocks or thighs

As you stand to speak, remember this: it's almost physically impossible to shake if your buttocks or your thigh muscles are clenched. Trust me on this – it does work.

Simply squeeze your buttocks or your thigh muscles – I don’t mean squeeze them with your hands, of course; I mean clench the muscles themselves. Most clothes will completely mask your actions and it will help you feel and appear more confident.

5. Wait two seconds before you speak

So there you are in front of your audience, clenching away. But before you begin to speak, make sure you wait two seconds. Look at the audience and smile. This will give you time to compose yourself and make you look really confident too.

6. Start well

If you know the first thing you’re going to say, you’ll feel so much calmer. Here are two classic ways of grabbing the audience’s attention right away:

a) Start with a clear statement: ‘This charity is doing incredible work – let me give you an example.’

b) Start with a story: ‘Sixteen years ago, I was on holiday in Norfolk with three friends when something strange happened …’

7. Hold hands

When we stand up to speak in public, our arms suddenly seem to be twice as long and twice as gangly. To overcome this, I recommend holding your hands lightly together in front of your stomach. This is the stance that most professional presenters prefer because it looks physically ‘open’ and relaxed. It also means you  are free to make gestures for emphasis. By using this technique you’ll feel more in control and reduce your nerves too.

8. Don’t use formal words

Avoid using over-formal words that you wouldn’t usually use – they will make you feel and sound stiff. For instance, starting with something like: ‘I would first like to welcome our many distinguished guests on this auspicious occasion’ is unlikely to help your nerves.

Instead, something along the lines of: ‘Thanks for coming, I'm thrilled you’re here’, is so much better. By speaking in your own words, you’ll naturally be more confident when you speak.

9. Use your own voice

The best advice of all that I can give is simply to be yourself. Don’t be tempted to put on your poshest voice and end up sounding like Boycie. Speak as if you were talking with a group of friends. Be real.

10.  End well

You want to end really well, so try coming back to the idea that you started with. Using the examples above, you could try:

a) ‘So that’s why this charity is doing such incredible work.’

b) ‘Then the next time you’re on holiday in Norfolk with three friends, you might just end up changing your career.’

Being relaxed in front of an audience is not rocket science. Squeeze your buttocks, hold your hands in front of your stomach, wait two seconds to speak, use your own voice and know what you’re first sentence is going to be and you'll be a TED speaker in no time.

Robin Kermode is author of 'Speak so your audience will listen’ and founder of coaching company Zone2. He’s also a former actor who appeared in everything from The Iron Lady to The Bill.

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