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Monday, January 14, 2008

Nerves...How to Control Them When You Speak

Because I once made my living as a motivational speaker, people often assume I don’t get nervous when I speak. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, every professional speaker I’ve met—and I’ve met a lot of the big names in the field—gets a touch of anxiety before stepping up to the microphone.

And yet, they do it. They get right up there and speak.

How do professionals control their nerves? What do THEY know that you don’t?

First of all, they know they are prepared. They have practiced their presentations hundreds or thousands of time. Out loud. That’s the key; they’ve harnessed the power of muscle memory. Muscle memory is why you can hop on a bicycle after years out of the saddle and ride off into the sunset. Muscle memory kicks in whether or not your “thinking” brain is engaged.

Second, they understand that a little nervous energy is a good thing. Better to be excited and energized than lethargic and boring. As one of my friends once said, “Sure I get butterflies. The trick is to make the butterflies fly in formation.”

Third, they’re prepared for the things that inevitably go wrong. They have fun comebacks for when the microphone squeals. “Must be microphone mating season!” Or when they forget what to say next. “Okay, any mind readers out there? What was I going to say? Any ideas? Me neither!” Or even, gulp, hecklers. “Did my ex-husband send you?”

Fourth, they know that NO ONE expects the speaker to be perfect. In fact, people don’t like perfect speakers. They like speakers who care about the audience, not speakers who are overly concerned about making a mistake. One corporate trainer I knew regularly dumped a cup of coffee on himself the first day of his week long training sessions. Why? He wanted the group to know he wasn’t perfect, and he wanted them to relax. He did that by making the first mistake.

Next month I’ll share with you tips for getting an audience to like you BEFORE you ever say a word.

Meantime, if you are coming to Love Is Murder, I’m presenting “How to be a Better Panelist…Or Presenter …. Or Guest Speaker.” The handout and tip sheet should be useful. Stop in and say, “Hi!” I’d love to meet you.

And if you need help before then, check out my textbook Using Stories and Humor: Grab Your Audience ISBN: 0-205-26893-5. It’s recommended by Toastmasters International.

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