Inspire Any Audience :

Proven Secrets of the Pros for Powerful Presentations

by Tony Jeary

Chapter 3

Secret Steps for Going from Nervous to Natural


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I am preparing to do the final editing on a new book that I am working on entitled Disciplemaking Teachers (to be released by Group in Jan 1998). In preparation, I have been grabbing everything I can get my hands on that deals with communication, teaching and the disciplemaking process. I so enjoyed Tony Jeary's new work I was pleased that he allowed me to make this chapter available to you. I was also pleased to discover that Tony is a committed Christian. I think you will enjoy this chapter so much you will want to buy the full book. You can purchase it online at

-Josh Hunt

1. Know what you're talking about.

Thorough preparation equals total confidence. Prepare then rehearse, rehearse, rehearse! Understand that your audience really wants you to succeed. Practice meaningfully-the way you'll actually deliver your presentation. Refer to chapter 2 for the best techniques on rehearsing.

2. Be yourself.

Use your own natural speaking style. Don't try to be someone you're not.

3. Psyche yourself up-use positive self-talk.

Visualize success: picture your audience applauding you at the end of your presentation then work toward it.

4. Work with your body's physical reaction to nerves.

Do stretching, isometrics, or some other exercise to relieve physical nervousness. Take deep breaths to control breathing. Pausing: proper pausing conveys relaxation and confidence.

5. Bond with your audience. Keep the audience on your side.

Pick two or three friendly faces; speak to them in your opening and feed off their positive energy. Get a good night's sleep before your presentation.

The Scene . . .

You know you have to lead a presentation at the quarterly sales meeting next month and you know your material well-your boss knows that. But you're terrified of speaking in front of people. Or-you've prepared and rehearsed for your presentation on local safety issues to be delivered to the local Commerce Committee until it seems like you could deliver it in your sleep. Your 3-D outline is as solid as Plymouth Rock. You look great on your videotape. But as soon as you stand up to rehearse in front of two or three of your friends, your mind goes blank. You have to look at your rehearsal cards, which confuses you even more, and before you know it, it's as if you never even prepared. If you can't stay calm in front of three or four friends, how will you ever manage to deliver your presentation in front of a room full of strangers? Or-in about one hour you have to speak You've been reviewing your notes, avoiding coffee, and trying to psyche yourself up for success. But you're so nervous that your hands are shaking and your knees feel weak. If only there were something to do to get it under control


The Solution . . .

Since there's more than one kind of nervousness (as the previous scenes suggest), we need a system that addresses all the different ways in which we feel nervous, a single system that addresses the physical manifestations of nervousness-butterflies in the stomach, dry mouth, wet palms-as well as the mental manifestations- negative self-talk, fear, and apprehension. In fact, an ideal solution would take all that energy you're wasting on being nervous and funnel it back into the presentation in the form of enthusiasm. You're Not Alone There's good news and bad news about nervousness-the good news is that everyone feels it. The bad news is that everyone feels it. Or more accurately, it never goes away. The differences between those who appear to be free of nervousness and those who suffer the devastating effects of obvious nervousness at the front of the room is control. Every time you see someone who seems relaxed, confident, and natural at the front of the room, it's because that person has mastered the techniques of keeping her nervousness under control so well that she'll never let you see her sweat!

Speaking in public is the number-one fear of people in America- if you can conquer this, it gives you a great competitive edge!


Step 1. Conquer Nervousness: Know What You're Talking About

The single best way to fight nerves is to prepare yourself. This is because nervousness is rooted in psychological stress (fear of failure) that manifests itself in physical symptoms (fast pulse, shallow breathing, dry mouth, sweaty palms, sick stomach, strange voice, and jittery knees). The bottom line is: preparation pays big dividends. If you've prepared well and still feel nervous, your preparation is going to help reduce your nerves once you begin to talk. This section of the book and its tips deals with nerves at all stages of the game-a month before, the night before, or the hour before your presentation. If you've followed the easy steps to preparation and rehearsal outlined in chapters 1 and 2, you've probably got a whole binder full of papers. The night before your presentation, TAKE ACTION by reviewing these notes and running the checklists you've prepared. This action will help reduce nerves. Professional speaker David Peoples, author of Presentations Plus, has this to say about reducing nervousness:

"The single most effective thing you can do for sweaty palms is rehearse. The second most effective thing you can do for sweaty palms is rehearse. Guess what the third most effective thing is?"


Step 2: Be Yourself

Don't even think about trying to be someone you're not. You might see a great presenter a week before your presentation-someone who has a Don Rickles style of poking jokes at the audience, or someone who runs back and forth and makes things up as she goes along. The audience may love these folks and you might be tempted to imitate them. Take it from me-don't. Audiences see through pretense. You have enough to worry about when you're giving a presentation-don't add to your burden by trying to do imitations. Here's just a partial list of what can go wrong when you try to be someone else.

  • You can make a poor first impression and then have nowhere to fall back.
  • Humor will be strained, because it is not natural-not from your heart, like all good humor. Unnatural humor ranges from dry and boring to utterly disastrous.
  • Your eye contact will be weak because you'll be busy focusing on being something you're not.
  • You will invariably lack conviction and enthusiasm.
  • The audience will resent your attempt or be embarrassed for you. All of which is to say once more: Be yourself!

"What if my natural self is a nervous wreck?" you ask. Great question! Proceed to step three and let's get to work fixing up that nervous wreck.


Step 3: Psyche Yourself Up Effectively: Your Mind's Reaction

Everyone speaks to him or herself. It may or may not be in words-but in any case you give yourself messages and commands constantly. In fact, we do it so often, we don't even think about it. This constant, often wordless, dialogue we carry on with ourselves is known in the presentation business as "self-talk." All too often we let our self-talk become negative without realizing it. Often, it's the most common of phrases. Some examples of this include:

  • "They're gonna hate me."
  • "I'll never get prepared in time."
  • "I'm just too nervous to stand up in front of those people."
  • "Last time I stood up in front of this group, I dropped all my files-what if it happens again?"

This negative self-talk sends exactly the wrong message to ourselves-it psyches us out. Change this negative self-talk! Try something positive:

  • The audience is going to love me because they really want me to succeed. (See sidebar on facing page.)
  • If I take a deep breath and concentrate, I will be more than prepared on time.
  • Following the steps to reducing nerves in Inspire Any Audience: Proven Secrets of the Pros will make me confident and competent in front of ANY audience. All I have to do is be myself.
  • Last time I stood up in front of this group, I dropped my files-but I also got them laughing with me at the end of my presentation. I'll focus on the positive outcome, not a negative incident.

If you can't help but think negatively, try this. Visualize failure and then raving success. Which is more fun? A technique I've used to calm my jitters is to put things into perspective. I "catastrophize" and ask myself, "What's the worst possible thing that can happen?" In the big scheme of things, the worst possible thing to happen during my presentation probably isn't that terrible anyway. It is only a blip on the radar scope of eternity. Think positively!

The Mind-Body Connection

Self-talk works for you (or against you) because of what nervousness really is. What we call nervousness is really our body's natural response to stressful situations. Scientists believe that these feelings date back to our pre-historic ancestors, who were instinctively programmed for "fight or flight" when faced with stress in the wild-maybe in the form of a saber-toothed tiger or a big brown bear. Today, when we're faced with the unknown-such as speaking in front of a group of people we don't know-that old mechanism kicks in and our body gets prepared for fight or flight. Modern civilized life doesn't leave us much room for fighting. As a result, we have nowhere to turn to relieve this stress. Our ancestors could burn away this stress by defending themselves or hightailing it out of there. But we have to bottle it up and stand there. That internalized energy causes all those unpleasant physical sensations we call nerves, platform jitters, the shakes, and so on.

Step 4. Learn to Work with Your Body's Physical Reaction

Positive thinking won't make the symptoms of nervousness disappear altogether, though it will greatly reduce your body's tendency to get nervous. And sometimes, as I mentioned above, your body can be treacherous. Even though you know better, even though you think positively, your body insists on going through the motions of feeling nervous. Unfortunately, the appearance of nervousness is often more than enough to cause the reality of nervousness. Fortunately, once you know a handful of "secret" techniques, dealing with nervousness is far easier than you might imagine. The key to gaining control of your body's reaction to the fight-or-flight instinct is to understand that the symptoms of nervousness come from the tension of not being able to burn off the fight-or-flight adrenaline. Burn off the excess energy, relax, and you reduce the nerves.

Physical stress reducers:

  • Deep breathing
  • Isometric exercises
  • Vigorous exercises
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Yawning
  • Talking to yourself
  • Moving and gesturing
  • Pausing

Deep breathing helps control stress by returning our breathing to its natural, pre-stress patterns. Try taking a few deep breaths then attempt to breathe normally over a period of a few minutes. Isometric exercises are stationary exercises in which one group of muscles works against another. Try pressing your fingertips gently together, then press harder and hold for a few seconds. You can even do these as you begin speaking-no one will know that you're burning bottled stress and reducing nervousness. Vigorous exercises such as jogging, walking, or swimming help keep stress low. A night or two before your presentation, take time out to go for a walk. If you're still nervous just before your presentation, find a storage room or empty rest room and do a few vigorous jumping jacks. Don't drench yourself in sweat, just do enough to get the blood flowing. It's a great stress reducer.

Relaxation techniques: Relax by focusing on tense muscle groups. First relax your scalp, then your eyebrows and ears, then your tongue and jaw, then shoulders and on down to your feet. Repeat as necessary or try stretching in combination with this technique. Yawning is the natural way to relax. Try yawning widely a few times. It's the body's natural way of relaxing itself. It also stretches the muscles of your neck and throat to make for more natural speaking. Talking to yourself: This is different from self-talking. Here I mean literally talk to yourself to warm up your voice. One trick: practice saying "Good morning!" over and over as you're on your way to a presentation. People may look at you as if you're nuts, but it's a small price to pay to reduce nerves and get yourself prepared for a great presentation!

Moving and gesturing: As you begin to speak, move, gesture, and burn some nervous energy. It catches your audience's attention when you're animated.

Pausing: Once you begin speaking, nerves can make you speak quickly, alerting everyone to your nervous state. Control it by learning to pause. Proper pausing conveys relaxation and confidence. An audience will sit up and listen when you pause. Surprisingly a pause of two, three, or even more seconds not only catches the attention of the audience, it lets them know you're in command. Learn to use the power of silence! Practice one or more of these techniques regularly and learn how to tailor them to your own particular patterns of nervousness. Combined with positive self-talk they represent a powerful combination for combating nervousness.


Step 5: Bonding with the Audience

Don't be too concerned if you still have a touch of nervous energy left as you approach the front of the room. It's useful energy at this point-in fact, it's something you can use to build excitement, project enthusiasm, and create a bond with the audience. Building an early rapport helps boost

your confidence and increases the audience's natural urge to want you to succeed. Bonding with your audience begins long before you start to speak.

  • Arrive early-before any audience members do. This sends the message that you care enough to get things ready in advance.
  • Meet and greet the audience yourself-I never cease to be amazed at presenters who stand off in one corner or officiously read notes while their audience files in. Get on your feet and greet! This gives you a great opportunity to build rapport by meeting audience members as individuals.

Always ask for their names, shake their hands, and make solid eye contact. When there's time, finding out how far they drove to get to the presentation, where they work, and other personal information provides you with important material and begins the process of developing audience advocates.

  • Start off by grabbing your audience's attention-(See chapter 4, "The First Three Minutes," for details.) Get your audience involved immediately! This will make them buy-in to what you say for the rest of your presentation.
  • Let your audience know what's in it for them-Begin with a statement that reduces their nervousness. (Yes, your audience is nervous, like you-everyone is!) Let them know they aren't wasting their time.
  • Make eye contact-Search out a few friendly faces-those folks who are smiling, nodding at what you say, laughing at your jokes. Look them in the eye and draw power from them. A good place to start are those few brave souls who sat in the front seats.
  • Show genuine enthusiasm-Let them know you're happy to be there, and they will be too. This will reduce your nervousness and make you comfortable. You probably didn't know all or even most of this information beforehand. Chances are no one told you that learning these things can make a friend of your audience. Getting that information beforehand greatly increases your success rate and confidence, thereby reducing or even eliminating your nervousness. You might have heard how important it is to "build a rapport" with your audience-that is, getting them to know and like you. But has anyone ever told you that building a rapport with your audience begins BEFORE you ever see them? The research you do even just a day or two before you meet your audience can make a big difference. They will begin to know and like you at the beginning of the talk if you have begun to know (and like) them BEFORE the talk.

One More Note on Nerves

Nervousness doesn't have to be your enemy. It's a natural and healthy sign. The day I stop feeling nervous is the day I know I'm no longer an effective presenter. The trick to nerves is making them work for you and not against you. Always strive to appear poised. It's one of the few miracles of the real world. The more you practice not looking nervous, the more you become less nervous. And finally, never apologize to your audience for feeling nervous. Your audience has no idea you're feeling the jitters. Only you can let them know, so don't!


Very Important Points to Remember

  • Everyone gets nervous-it's a natural physical reaction that can be controlled, both mentally and physically.
  • Your audience really wants you to win.
  • Being completely prepared is the key to reducing nervousness.
  • Use positive self-talk to reduce your mental stress.
  • Use appropriate stress and tension reduction exercises to lessen your physical stress.
  • Convert nervousness to enthusiasm by bonding with your audience. Get them immediately involved.
  • Practice feeling confident and you will be confident. Never let 'em see you sweat!