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5 ways you can hide your nerves when giving a speech

You might feel anxious on the inside, but there are ways to project confidence on the outside.

5 ways you can hide your nerves when giving a speech
[Photo: YurolaitsAlbert/iStock]

What’s the reaction you have when you see a speaker who’s nervous? Chances are, you probably catch the feeling, feel their suffering, and cringe at the thought that it could be you. Then you’ll probably start hoping that it will never be you. Fear is a powerful emotion and is extremely contagious.

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It’s normal to be anxious when you’re giving a speech. You don’t necessarily need to fight it. You just need to manage it so that it comes through in your demeanor. Here are the five tools you can use to hide your nerves when you’re giving a speech.

1) Breathe

Everything starts with self-awareness. Understand how loudly you breathe–whether you gasp or sigh, your listeners will notice the breath you take before you speak.

The best way to do this is to focus on the exhale. Under pressure, your nervousness drives you to want more. A big breath is good, and a bigger breath is even better. Think about controlling your breath like taking a sip of air–the less air you have to hold, the less sound you’ll make when you breathe.

2) Pace yourself

When speakers get nervous, they accelerate into a fast-paced delivery that showcases a hyper level of intensity. But this kind of rapid-fire delivery is incredibly jarring to the audience, and they might end up focusing on that feeling rather than the substance of your message.

The best way to keep the focus on your message is to get into a relaxed rhythm. To discover what this means for you, notice your pace next time you walk–what feels comfortable? Then start talking–mentally if you’re in the streets with lots of people, or out loud if you’re alone in the woods. Let your speaking connect with your walking, and notice how your sentence structure changes. Pay attention to when you pause and what patterns naturally emerge when you let your movement drive your sentence structure.

By taking this whole body approach to your speaking, you’ll discover the control that comes from grounding your speech in your natural rhythm. It’s a small exercise that can make a big difference.

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3) Move from your center

When speakers get nervous, they often tighten their bodies and move their hands with floppy movements from their wrists and elbows, kind of like the flippers of a penguin. Their body is rigid. To control these nervous gestures, you have to add more by moving from your core–not just your arms.

To experience the feeling, next time you stand, raise your arms to the ceiling. Raise them as high as you can go, then raise them even higher. To get that last inch, you’ll have to lift with your whole body. This movement allows your full energy to flow through your entire body, which makes you appear calm and collected on the outside–regardless of what you’re feeling on the inside.

4) Stretch your vowels

When speakers get nervous, they often compress their sounds. Think of that commercial where you put all those clothes in a bag, suck out all the air, and cram it all in one small carry-on-size suitcase.

Nervous speakers compress their sounds, which becomes more clipped. Staccato sounds, scratchy sounds, mumbling sounds all make it difficult for the audience to understand what you’re saying–especially if you are on a conference call or video chat.

In this instance, the worst thing you can do is to focus on articulation. When you focus on articulation, you concentrate on consonants. But consonants clip sounds even more, so your speaking becomes compressed and choppy.

The key is to focus on stretching out your vowels, slurring your sounds together. By focusing on stretching out your vowels, you’ll sound sharp and clear. You’ll project confidence outward even though you may be quivering inside.

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5) Stand solid

When speakers get nervous, they often sway from side to side. This makes their bodies seem unweighted, fragile, like a vase on a table tipping from side to side and about to fall over. To avoid this impression, put one foot slightly ahead of the other–shoulder width apart. Now, take a knee bend. As you come up, feel the connection with the floor and stand solid. Of course, you can move from time to time–but make sure you remain solid. This allows you to project outer strength, no matter how weak-kneed you feel on the inside.

Sometimes, eliminating nerves before a big talk seems impossible. But just because you might feel those emotions on the inside, you can still take actions to project strength and confidence on the outside. Start by adopting these five techniques. Over time, you might just find that you no longer have to fight your anxieties, because they’re no longer there.

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About the author

Anett Grant is the CEO of Executive Speaking, Inc. and the author of the new e-book, CEO Speaking: The 6-Minute Guide. Since 1979, Executive Speaking has pioneered breakthrough approaches to helping leaders from all over the world--including leaders from 61 of the Fortune 100 companies--develop leadership presence, communicate complexity, and speak with precision and power

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