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young woman with long brown hair in bed looking scared wtih covers pulled up under her nose - I can't do public speaking it makes me nervous

I Can’t Do Public Speaking, it Makes Me Nervous

Don’t let that stop you — find out how!

Many people say ” I can’t do public speaking — it makes me nervous.” They believe this because they are either;

· Afraid of looking nervous

· Afraid of their nervousness

· Afraid their nervousness will make them lose their memory

· Afraid of looking foolish on stage

I’m here to tell you that everyone gets nervous standing up in front of a crowd. That isn’t something that should stop you from doing a great job of your presentation.

Root Canal or Public Speaking…

Years ago, my role at CDI College was to teach presentation classes to students. Students were tasked with giving one group presentation and one solo presentation. Out of a class of 20–30 people usually, 70% would have chosen a root canal over standing in front of the class. Some threatened to quit the program because they were so scared.

What’s the formula for Speaking Success?

woman with long curly brown hair writing formula on white board - formula for public speaking
Formula for public speaking

But, by the end of the three-week program, 99% of them stood up in front of the class and delivered brilliant, calm, poised presentations. Many delivered such impactful presentations I still remember them 15 years later. Although I’d like to take the credit for my brilliant teaching, their success was due to a simple formula.

1. They talked about a subject they were knowledgeable about and that was meaningful to them

2. They learned the structure of a presentation and followed timing specifications

3. They practiced many, many, many times and presented from memory in a conversational style

Structure of a Presentation

The structure of a presentation is easy to learn and only involves three sections: introduction, body, conclusion. Within each section, you can have 1–3 sub-themes. That’s it. When you structure your presentation, write it out, proof it to check for a logical flow of themes. Then read it out loud with a stopwatch, to ensure your presentation fits within the time frame. Practice it in front of the mirror or video yourself.

Practice, practice, practice! I can’t stress practice enough. You need to know your presentation so well that you can do it by memory easily. Nerves may affect your ability to remember, but, the more you practice, the less likely this will happen.

Speaking from Your Unique Perspective

Often, we are tasked with presenting a work-related topic to a specific audience for a specific reason. Many times, the topic is not our choice. You can still make the presentation your own no matter how dry the subject. Working in a specialized field makes you an expert in that area. Your knowledge and insights will help your audience move forward. Your unique spin on the topic will resonate with your audience. You are the only one who sees things from your perspective and that’s what the audience wants to hear and experience. You.

Feel the Nerves and Do it Anyway

crowd of campers looking scared

If nerves give you physical symptoms such as dry mouth, bring water with you. If your hands shake or perspire — so what?! Are you worried you might throw up? Bring a bucket and keep it backstage. If you have to get sick, go off stage, get it over with and then get back on the stage and finish what you came to do. Don’t let yourself off the hook! But seriously, in the thousands of performances I’ve watched, I’ve never seen one person who threw up on stage from nerves.

Have you been told you have annoying mannerisms such as jingling keys or pacing? While practicing, watch for them, or video yourself during your rehearsals. This way you can practice them out of your presentations.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Once it is memorized, practice it in front of family, friends, or trusted colleagues or your local Toastmaster’s chapter. Ask for feedback and incorporate the changes. Feedback helps you improve.

I also used to teach performance classes for amateur singers. None of these people had ever stood up in front of a crowd and sang. At the end of 6 weeks, we held a performance in a big room with lights and a sizeable audience. They performed like seasoned professionals. Why? Because we practiced their songs and stagings hundreds of times.

Plan B for Memory Slips

We also practiced what to do if they had memory slips. There are a couple of things you can do. The first is to pause and collect your thoughts. The next it simply continue, but don’t stop and tell people you messed up! Keep your presentation professional. No one wants to feel they have to give you counseling while you’re on the stage. Most audiences don’t expect perfection, they want to learn something, be amused, be persuaded, or any other number of things. If you forget a sentence, keep going and finish your presentation. Unless you gave them a copy of your presentation, they won’t know if you made a memory slip here and there. As long as you finish.

Nerves add that little bit of excitement and an edge to a performance that keeps you on your toes. Performing/presenting in front of an audience is what one of my former singing students called a “gut buster”. A gut buster is an experience that feels difficult but makes you up your game and ultimately moves you to the next level.

Keeping Sharp

I’ve been on stages most of my life through singing, public speaking, and in virtually every job I’ve held. I still attend weekly toastmaster’s meetings six years and counting for several reasons. Attending toastmasters is my infusion of positive vibes for the week. Toastmasters is a diverse group of people who really want me to do well and celebrate my success. They also give me unflinchingly honest feedback on my presentations that I take to heart and can work with. I still have to be reminded to slow down when I speak. Toastmasters also gives me the opportunity to try out different types of presentations. Such as humorous speeches I might not have the opportunity to present in my professional life.

During COVID I’ve done three speeches on Zoom. This is a very different experience than performing live and it involves an entirely new skill set. Learning and practicing new presentations adds freshness and creativity to the presentations I normally do. Lastly, Toastmasters gives me the opportunity to get regular speaking practice. Do I still get nervous? Heck yes! But I recognize the symptoms and know they won’t kill me. I am well prepared and have practiced my presentation hundreds of times, so no one ever notices.

In my singing days, I had the opportunity to take coaching lessons from one of the great ladies of the operatic stage, Willa Stewart. During one of my lessons I told Willa, I don’t think I need to keep taking regular voice lessons. I’ve achieved an expert technical level and I’m fine without regular lessons. Willa gave me advice I’ve carried with me for over 20 years.

“Honey if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.”

What are you doing to get better?

A great resource for turning your speaking into an ongoing revenue stream is Speakers! The Quick Public Speaking to Business Method: Turning Your Talk into an Ongoing Revenue Stream — by Connie Ragen Green.

Please note: I only recommend books I like and may receive a small affiliate commission.

Nelda Schulte is a property investor who is passionate about helping investors who self-manage have profitable investment properties through resources and education. If you struggle with the wrong landlord forms, or worse yet, no landlord forms check out Nelda’s 10 Essential Editable Landlord Forms that help you separate the good tenants from the bad and increase your property’s profitability.

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