As you step up to the front of the room, you can feel your face flush and your ears burn. Your hands are shaking as you take command of the stage. A little voice in the back of your head is telling you that everyone can tell how nervous you are.
That little voice lies.
One of the most frequent questions I’ve been asked … after “How do I deal with nerves/fear?” … is “Can’t they tell I’m nervous?” And, frankly, the answer really is “It depends.”
First, you might be surprised how many people are actually oblivious to your nervousness. And there are two big reasons for this:
- You’re probably not as obviously nervous as you think you are.
I know from my own personal experience, that sometimes when your face and ears feel hot, they haven’t changed color at all. Also, a small tremor in your hands that isn’t noticeable to the audience, can feel like your hand is jerking about wildly. But it’s not.
- If you play your cards right, your presentation will wow them so much they’ll never get around to noticing your nervousness.
I once gave a speech that I had put so much importance on that I made myself unnecessarily nervous. In fact, I was so nervous I was actually seeing purple in the sides of my vision and I was convinced I was going to faint right there in front of my audience. I even forgot some of my stories. But when I asked around the room after my presentation, no one had a clue I was nervous. You can see a video of that speech here.
These are the common tell-tale signs of nervous energy:
- Speaking too fast
- Shaking hands
- Not looking at the audience
- Too many filler words
However, as I just indicated, you can do all these things and still have no one notice that you’re nervous!
There are two ways you can work on making your nervousness less obvious. The first is to work on lessening the tell-tale signs, the second is to work on your nervousness directly. Here are some pointers.
Reduce Tell-Tale Signs of Nervous Energy
Keep in mind, your audience, in general, is rooting for you and will pay more attention to your content and overall delivery than any particular nervous signal. That means there are things you can do to make your nervous signals less obvious and help your audience focus on your message, rather than your nervous signals.
Speaking Too Fast
Make a concerted effort to moderate the speed of your delivery. You can speak quickly some of the time, however, you should change your pace at appropriate moments.
Breathe. Relax. Focus on speaking at a moderate pace.
If you’ve practiced your presentation, doing this is much easier.
O.K. This is an automatic response that you can’t really control. In fact, I’ve been known to blush without even realizing that I’m doing it. So, if you’re like me, just ignore it. Don’t bring attention to your blushing. And, as you get more comfortable in front of the room, you’ll find that you’ll blush much less often.
Again, this gets less and less likely the more comfortable you are at giving presentations. So, if this is an issue for you, do things with your hands that make the shaking less obvious.
- Don’t hold your hands out in front of you and draw attention to them.
- Move your hands in a more fluid motion so that the shaking is less obvious.
- Use gestures that draw attention to your face, a prop, or some other location than your hands.
But whatever you do, don’t try to hide your hands by putting them in your pockets!
Not Looking at the Audience
You look at your notes.
You look at the floor.
You look at the ceiling.
You just can’t bring yourself to look in the direction of your audience.
This is not only a tell-tale sign of nervousness, but it is also so distracting for your audience they will find it difficult to pay attention to your message.
I’ve watched speeches where the presenter turned his back to the audience the whole time, never looked up from his notes, and even talked to the floor. I remember the presentations … just not what was said during them.
Make an effort to look in your audience’s direction. If you are not comfortable looking in the direction of their eyes, try looking at their foreheads or noses. Scan across the audience so you don’t fixate on one person and make that person uncomfortable. I heard one person give the advice that if you’re giving a presentation to a dinner-style audience, then you can at least look at the centerpieces! From the stage, no one will truly know.
Too Many Filler Words
These are all words that are used as fillers … sounds to fill the space between the words we really want to be saying.
Sometimes we say them because we are uncomfortable with silence. Sometimes because we’re in the habit of using them as false transitions. And sometimes we think they help us think of what to say next.
Make an effort to stop using them.
You don’t need to fill every moment of your presentation with sound. Silence can be your friend.
And the less “ums,” “ahs” and “you knows” you use, the more together and professional you’ll sound.
Reduce Your Nervous Energy
All speakers feel a bit nervous before a presentation – although some interpret it as excitement or enthusiasm. You may eventually get to that point yourself. But until then, here are some tips for reducing your nervousness.
Ignore Your Nervous Energy and Move On
If you pay too much attention to your nervousness, you give it power. The more power it has, the more nervous you’ll feel, and eventually, it will become noticeable. Pay more attention to your content and delivery than your nerves.
Pretend you’re a confident speaker
Give them an awesome presentation
Like I mentioned earlier, if your content is good and your delivery of that content is well done, your nervousness will be overshadowed by your awesomeness. Be entertaining. Tell stories that illustrate your points. Make your presentation so engaging that people are paying attention to what you have to say, not your shaking hands and sweaty brow (unless, of course, your brow is so sweaty that you’re tossing droplets at the audience … but that’s another post).
Note: This post is a fusion and update of two previous posts with the same title. One was first published on Aug. 29, 2011, the other Dec. 16, 2011.