Prepare Ahead Of Time.
Prepare the message of your speech thoroughly. Know exactly what it is you want to bring across to your audience…and why. Knowing the purpose of your speech will help focus and organize your thoughts, thus allowing you to be relaxed when it comes time to make your presentation.
In addition, others find it helpful to rehearse their presentation “physically” (or aloud—as if they were actually giving out a presentation…the only difference is, they are speaking to an imaginary audience) before their presentation. While others prefer to rehearse mentally” (visualization exercises).
In fact, most or all peak performers (from speakers to athletes…you name it) perform visualization exercises before their actual performance. (This could mean days, weeks, months, or even years in advance depending on the type of performance—and these exercises are usually done on a daily or regular basis.)
Use what works for you.
(For those who are not too familiar with the term visualization, which is sometimes called mental imagery or mental rehearsal, basically, what you do is you imagine in your mind’s eye the kind of performance you would like to give…with as much detail as possible…and also, the kind of end result you would like from your performance. And it can be done with your eyes open or closed. Note: Visualization exercises are much more effective and powerful when done in what is called “associated” mode [meaning, you are seeing your surroundings from inside your own body—for example, imagining the audience in front of you…imagining how receptive they are…while you are feeling confident and relaxed where you’re standing…and so on—and not watching yourself from a distance]…and with lots of intense and positive feelings. Even better when you can include as many of your five senses as possible in your visualizations.)
Of course, prepare what you’re going to wear, as well as, the materials (ex. visual aids) you plan to use in your presentation. Also, if you need to get directions on how to get to the venue where you’ll be speaking, do this way ahead of time. That way, you will not feel rushed at the last minute.
The more prepared you are overall, the more relaxed you will be before and during your presentation.
(Of course, if it’s going to be impromptu or extemporaneous speaking, then just do your best to organize your thoughts as quickly as you can with whatever time you’re given. Focus on your purpose for speaking. Ask yourself, “What’s the message I want to convey? Why do I want to convey this message?” And stay relaxed as much as possible. You’ll learn more about how to do this in the information that follows.)
2. Wear something appropriate and comfortable for the occasion.
When you look good (or when you know you look good), you tend to feel good. When you are less self-conscious, you tend to be more at ease. Whether we admit it or not, the way we look somehow affects the way we feel.
Of course, don’t forget proper grooming.
3. Be convinced that what you have to say matters.
Be convinced of the importance of your message. Doing this will put you at ease and will make you appear more confident (and above all, congruent). In fact, do your best to speak only about things/topics you truly believe in or are passionate about. Your conviction and passion will naturally shine through (and applying Principle #9 below will help even more). This will make you much more credible to your audience. Remember, your listeners will only believe you if they first sense that you believe in what you are saying.
4. Put yourself in a “confident” state.
There are many ways to do this. One of the best ways that I’ve found is to “act as if” you were already confident (that’s if you feel you’re not quite in the “confident” state yet). Walk and talk the way you would if you were already extremely confident.
Sometimes, it helps to ask yourself the following questions:
“How would I feel right now if I were absolutely confident?”
“How would I breathe?”
“How would I stand?”
“How would I walk?”
“How would I talk?”
…and so on.
Another excellent way would be for you to imagine a time in the past when you were completely confident…then bring that state to the present moment…and speak/present while in that state.
Ask yourself the following:
“When, in the past, was I absolutely confident?”
“How did I breathe?”
“How did I stand?”
“How did I walk?”
“How did I talk?”
…and so on.
It’s very important that when you ask these questions, and when you do these visualizations, you are not imagining yourself outside your body as if you were watching yourself as an actor/actress on a movie screen. You must be in your body…seeing things in the outside world from inside your own body.
Also, when asking the last few questions (while imagining a past confident state you were in), all you need to do is imagine a time when you were absolutely confident…and it doesn’t matter what you were doing at the time, as long as you were absolutely confident. It does not have to be a past speaking situation…although if you could remember a time, that would be great. (Your main goal is to bring that past, empowering, state into the present moment so that you will be in an empowered state to perform at your peak in the present moment.)
5. Keep your attention/focus away from yourself…at all costs.
In other words, avoid being self-conscious at all costs…because self-consciousness is one of the biggest causes of nervousness. Focus instead on the message you want to bring across to your audience. Focus on why you are there…why you are speaking to them. Also, avoid or interrupt any negative or disempowering internal dialogue. Immediately interrupt the pattern when you hear the negative voice inside of you saying things like: “Oh-oh! They’re all looking at you…checking you out…measuring you up…judging you…blah-blah-blah.” Come up with an effective way to stop that negative voice in its tracks.
Sometimes, just ignoring it and immediately changing your focus works. At times, it may help to internally yell, “STOP!” or, “STOP IT!” …and then immediately change focus. The key is to interrupt the pattern as soon as you catch it. Don’t give the monster a chance to grow. Avoid giving it any power over you. Squash it while it’s little. Then change your focus immediately.
By the way, I’m curious. I don’t know if this has ever happened to you, but it’s happened to me quite a few times when I was in my teens. You’re just walking along, naturally, without a care in the world, and then someone comes along…someone you admire/like appears out of nowhere…and then you lose your “natural walking rhythm” or the way you walk feels out of sync (a very awkward feeling), all because, all of a sudden, you place your focus on yourself (or you become self-conscious). Has this ever happened to you?
Well, what I eventually learned, later on, was that, unconsciously, I was saying to myself, “Oh boy, I better walk nicely because I want to give her the impression that I’m cool.” In other words, instead of just expressing the natural me, allowing the natural me to just shine through, thus allowing the way I walk to be natural, I ended up putting on a performance/show because I was trying to prove something or trying to gain approval and that negatively affected my natural walking rhythm.
6. Breathe naturally and in a relaxed manner.
In the beginning, you may need to monitor your breathing once in a while to make sure you are breathing naturally—and in a relaxed manner. I say this because there are probably a lot of people out there who are not even aware of their breathing patterns…especially when under pressure…or when the heat is on. Besides, it only takes a second or two.
You can usually tell if you’re not breathing naturally because when you are nervous, your stomach muscles either tend to tense up unnecessarily, or your breathing tends to be shallow/fast…or both. And as a result, you feel uncomfortable—which is a disempowering state. And that’s not beneficial to your performance.
After a while, though, you won’t have to monitor your breathing as much. In fact, as time goes by, you will get used to breathing naturally—and in a relaxed manner—even under pressure.
In the beginning, it will help a lot if you could make a comparison between the way you breathe when you’re relaxed and the way you breathe when you’re tense or nervous. Be aware of the difference. Meaning, whenever you catch yourself being tense or nervous, with your heart beating fast and everything, be aware of the way you breathe…then do the same when you catch yourself in a relaxed mood…for example, while talking to relatives or close friends—people you are already very comfortable with. Once you are more aware of the difference, you will naturally use what is more beneficial to you, more often, and unconsciously.
Although in the previous section, I suggested not to be self-conscious, this awareness of your breathing patterns will not violate that principle. Remember, you will merely be doing this in the beginning until such time when you no longer need to do it as often…or at all. And when you do put your awareness on your breathing in the beginning, it’s best to do it during a period of inactivity…ex. a pause between phrases or between making a point. If you feel you’re in the flow while making a presentation, then you don’t really need to monitor/check your breathing anymore. It means you’re doing fine. Just move on with your presentation.
7. Speak as if you were speaking to a close friend or loved one in a conversational manner.
Look at individuals in your audience, eye to eye…as if you were conversing with them individually as if you were sitting across the table/room from them. Talk directly to one person for a few seconds, then move on to someone else…and keep repeating this. In fact, when you do this, you will feel more relaxed because you will feel like you are talking to individuals just like in a conversation and not to a “group” of people. And not only will you appear very confident and relaxed, but your audience will also automatically feel comfortable and relaxed. As a result, they will be more receptive to your message. Remember, confidence and being comfortable are contagious.
8. Always remind yourself that it’s okay to make mistakes.
Give yourself permission to make mistakes. It’s perfectly okay. You’re only human. Even the highest achievers in the world make them. In fact, everybody makes them. (Make the decision ahead of time, before speaking in front of any group, that you will allow yourself to make mistakes…to look awkward or foolish.)
Basically, what I’m suggesting is that you go out there and do your best, or give your all, while at the same time, know that you are willing to forgive yourself (and willing to continue to accept yourself) whatever the outcome may be. It does not make you a bad person or a fool if you make mistakes unintentionally. (If you do it intentionally, then that’s a different story. Besides, who in their right mind would “plan” to make mistakes in advance?) Learn from your mistakes, then move on.
By giving yourself permission this way, you will become more relaxed. Why? Because what creates tension, stress, or nervousness in the first place is when a part of you is saying, “You must be perfect. You must do this perfectly. You can’t screw up no matter what happens or else people will see you as a failure.” While another part of you just wants to naturally go with the flow…not giving a care for anything. This kind of inner conflict (between the different parts of you) is what causes tension, stress, or nervousness.
9. Express yourself fully and freely…with your whole being.
Let your conviction, enthusiasm, and passion show. Unleash them fully and freely. And let it be felt by your audience. (If it helps, you can imagine rays of light emanating from you, penetrating each of your audience members.) Avoid holding back. Just let go. When you do this, you will naturally become more confident.
When you are speaking from your very core, just allowing your natural feelings to flow outward, for some reason, you tend to forget about fear or nervousness. And doing this usually results in peak performances (being in the “flow”).
10. Be completely in the present moment—in the here and now.
While you are speaking, keep your thoughts away from the past or future (since focusing on the past or future can create anxiety through the pouring in of negative thoughts—ex. negative experiences associated with the past, or, the negative consequences that could possibly arise in the future). Also, avoid thinking about the outcome, as well as, your expectations of the outcome during your speech. Simply flow. Immerse yourself completely on what you are doing (in this case, speaking) in the present moment. This will help you greatly in performing at your peak. In fact, this is another quality possessed by peak performers.
11. Avoid the need to gain approval.
What do I mean by this? Because others might say, “Well, Gabriel, what if I am trying to persuade the audience to accept my point of view, am I not trying to gain their approval?”
My answer would be, “Yes, naturally, that would be your ultimate goal if you were trying to persuade others.” Your desired outcome would, of course, be for them to accept your argument because it will benefit both you and them in some way.
But I’m talking more about your mental attitude or mindset while you are speaking—which in turn affects your physiological state. The mindset that says, “It’s okay if he/she rejects my argument. That’s his/her right. At least, I did my best to persuade him/her.” Or, the mindset that says: “I accept the fact that not everyone will be persuaded to my point of view, and that’s okay. At least, I did what I could.”
When you are focused on trying to impress others (because of your need to gain approval), you will end up saying or doing things you really don’t want to say or do (in other words, it will cause you to do things against your will) and this is what causes stress/anxiety. You will feel like you are betraying yourself (or going against what you believe to be true). And you’ll end up regretting it later.
What creates stress/anxiety is when your inner voice is saying, “I must do this, or I must say this…or else they will think negatively of me.” Whatever you do, avoid going into a speaking situation with the following attitude or mindset: “Please accept me. Please accept my ideas. I won’t be able to handle it if you don’t. I’ll feel like a failure if you reject me or my ideas.” Because if you possess that kind of attitude, even if you don’t say those words outright, your audience will sense your lack of confidence (both in yourself and in your ideas) and your lack of self-esteem. You’ll end up sabotaging your own efforts…and your performance will suffer…thus you will not be effective in fulfilling your objective of persuading your audience.
Instead, your attitude should be more like: “I have something very valuable to offer you that I believe will highly benefit you. This is what you’ll gain/benefit if you accept my offer. And this is what you’ll lose out on (or this is the pain you’ll continue to experience) if you don’t. The decision to accept or reject my offer is completely up to you. That is your right. And I’ll respect your decision. As for me, I’ll lose nothing if you reject my offer.”
In other words, it is you who carries the key to the treasure chest. Since you are the one who has something valuable and beneficial to offer your audience, you shouldn’t appear like you’re begging for approval.
Besides, you need to be honest with yourself and accept the fact that you will not always win everyone to your point of view consider yourself fortunate if you are able to do so. Of course, you would still do whatever it takes to try and persuade each audience member (if the objective of your presentation is to persuade), but realize that it’s perfectly okay if you don’t. The ones who accept your message, or are moved by your message, are the ones destined to benefit. Don’t worry about the rest who don’t. In other words, don’t make it a problem—don’t let it bother you. Maybe your message wasn’t meant for them. Or the time is not right for them to receive it. Maybe they’ll be persuaded in the future when their circumstances change and they remember your speech. Who knows? Whatever the case may be, simply accept the outcome and move on.
Basically, you ought to be like a good teacher who tells his/her students what they need to hear, and not what they want to hear…and you would do it with the understanding that they’re free to walk away or reject your argument if that is what they choose to do.
12. Trust in the power of your mind
Reinforce in your being the belief that your mind will deliver the right words at the right time. Meaning, if you are speaking without the aid of a written script (where something is read verbatim or word-for-word), like some do (others, like myself, prefer to just write down keywords in a logical progression to serve as reminders), avoid worrying about what you’re going to say next. If you know your topic really well, your subconscious mind will produce the right words at the right time (especially if you went over the content of your speech many times prior to your presentation)…if you will only allow it…if you will only trust it. But you must be in the right state for this to work effectively.
You must be in a relaxed, confident, and “trusting” state. A state where you “just know” that the words will come. (Of course, it helps greatly if you are speaking about a topic you are passionate about.)
You must trust in your mind’s ability to deliver. The more you do this, the more your mind will automatically deliver when you need it to. For some reason, the subconscious mind likes to be trusted. The more you trust it, the more it wants to be worthy of that trust. In other words, it will find ways to justify that you are right in trusting it. And if you don’t trust it, it will also find ways to justify that you are right in not trusting it.
Actually, there may be times when your mind just goes blank (for a second or two), for some reason, and you don’t remember the word/term you wish to use in a sentence. In a case like that, just stay relaxed and wait patiently. Just wait in a relaxed and expectant state…and eventually, the right word will come. (Whatever you do, avoid panicking. The more anxious you are, the harder it will be to remember the right word. Remember, the less you trust your mind, the less it will want to deliver.)
Besides, if you stay calm, most of the time, people won’t even notice that there’s something wrong. They’ll think it was just a normal pause, or you did it on purpose for effect. In other words, the flow of your presentation will move smoothly without interruption. And you will continue to be perceived as being “in charge” of the situation.
Remember this: The more you trust your mind, the more it will deliver. And the more your mind delivers, the more confident you will become in speaking situations.
13. Decide in advance to tell the truth no matter what.
Of course, this is nothing new. You already know that when you are telling the truth, you are much more relaxed or at ease. Why? Simply because what you say and what you believe to be true are in harmony. There’s no conflict within. Whereas, when you are lying, there’s that voice inside of you saying, “What if they can see through me and sense my dishonesty?” Or, “What if I’m ever found out?”
In fact, just “planning” to lie already makes one anxious or tense. In other words, it puts you in a disempowering or unresourceful state. And it negatively affects your performance. Worse, you will lose your audience’s trust once they sense you are not telling the truth (they will somehow sense it, subconsciously). And when that happens, it will be all over. Once your credibility goes, everything else goes.
14. Trust that you can handle whatever comes your way.
This must be one of the biggest and most important lessons I’ve learned about effective speaking/presenting. In fact, every great speaker/presenter does it, whether consciously or unconsciously.
If you’ll only observe the most relaxed and effective speakers/presenters (ex. TV personalities or talk show hosts), you will find that they have this quality. They’ll say or do the wrong things at times and they’ll just simply laugh it off or make a joke out of it. And then they’ll proceed as if nothing happened. They are able to consistently do this because they have simply learned to trust in their ability to handle whatever comes their way.
By mastering this principle, you can go very far as a speaker/presenter. In fact, if you happen to come short in other areas, but you have this quality, you’ll be able to face any unexpected event with a sense of calm (while others would panic in the same situation). In fact, this does not only apply to speaking/presenting, but to life as a whole.
Basically, you are saying to yourself, “No matter what happens, I know I can handle it. If I make a mistake, so what? It’s not the end of the world. Besides, I permit myself to make mistakes. I’ll learn from this experience and move on.” (Remember: The meaning of any event is the meaning you give it. Also, nothing has any power over you except the power you give it.)
Or you might say, “Whatever happens, I’ll handle it. I’ve done it many times before, so I can do it again.” There must be numerous events in your life, in the past, wherein things did not turn out exactly as you expected—and I’m sure many of them were even events that made you feel devastated, hopeless, and helpless…as if it were the end of the world—but still you were able to eventually handle them.
Again, master this principle…and you will go very far as a speaker/presenter. Above all, you will have the strength and courage to tackle anything in life.
15. Apply the “I don’t care” or “It doesn’t matter” attitude.
This is another very powerful principle and it’s closely related to the previous one—Principle #14. In fact, don’t take my word for it. Just like all the other principles in this article, apply it and discover just how powerful it is. And once you’ve benefited from it, use it more often. Again, this principle applies to many situations in life and not only to speak.
Does this mean that you don’t actually care about the outcome? Of course not. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be wasting your time taking the steps leading to that desired outcome in the first place. Just like what we’ve covered in some of the previous sections (ex. Principle #12), it is the “state” that results from these principles that you are after.
Basically, once you’ve determined your desired outcome, let it go. Surrender it completely to God.
Think of something else. You have no control over the outcome anyway, so just work on what you can control.
In other words, if there are any thoughts that are trying to scare or hinder you, by giving you negative pictures of what could happen, because of your decision to pursue a certain idea, just say, “I don’t care.” And “mean it”—like you really don’t care. Then immediately change focus.
What you are basically saying is, “I don’t care if that happens. I can handle it.”
Or, “It doesn’t matter. I can handle it.”
Or, “So what? I’ll handle it anyway.”
Or, “Whatever happens, happens. I’ll handle it anyway.”
When you do this, you are basically telling the negative voice inside you, “Leave me alone. Stop wasting my time. You won’t succeed in convincing me to stop pursuing what I want because I’m already certain that no matter what happens, I’ll be able to handle it.” Basically, you are refusing to give the negative voice any power over you.
Again, your main goal in all of this is to access an empowering state so you can be highly effective in the present moment. And this mental attitude or mindset will help you access that type of state.
16. Speak as often as possible
Consciously seek ways to speak in front of others. Take advantage of every opportunity to express your thoughts to others whether it be one-on-one or a group setting—while applying the principles you’ve learned—and your confidence level will skyrocket. In fact, as time goes by, speaking in front of others will feel more and more comfortable and natural to you. With constant practice, you gain more mastery. And as you gain more mastery, your confidence grows.