Manage nerves before you speak

Last week, you met Rachel. She is a newer financial planner with a problem – she feels extremely anxious whenever she has to speak before an audience… and she has to present to a group in one month.

She’s learned that, when you speak in public, you don’t want to eliminate nerves, because some stress is good. The goal should be to manage those feelings and use that energy to improve your delivery.

There are two keys to doing this. Rachel has already learned the first key:

Focus on the benefit you’re offering to your audience. In other words, don’t think about what you’re giving the audience, think about what they’re getting. There is a difference.

This brings us to the second key. Listen in on my second conversation with Rachel:

After initial pleasantries, Rachel says, “Michael, I’ve worked hard on writing my speech around the benefits to the audience, rather than talking about me. I can see where it will help with my nerves because I’m more concerned about them learning something useful. Now I’m ready to learn the second key.”

“I like your eagerness, Rachel,” I say. “The second key is so obvious you’ll kick yourself. It is…


Rachel looks somewhat disappointed.  “That’s it? I always prepare before I speak.”

“Tell me more about that,” I reply.

“Well, I write out my speech first.  Then I practice it in my head.  If I can find privacy, I’ll lock the door and say it out loud a couple of times,” Rachel tells me.

After thinking about her response, I say, “The type of preparation I’m talking about is a lot different. I have an odd question to ask, Rachel. I promise it has a purpose.”

“Okay,” she says with some trepidation.

“If you wanted to be a great golfer, who would you ask for help?”

She thinks for a couple of seconds and says, “The best golfer I can find.”

“Good,” I say. “If you wanted to be a great teacher, who would you ask for help?”

She quickly replies, “The best teachers.”

“Precisely.  Do you see where I’m headed with this?” I ask.

She smiles, “I’m guessing you’re going to tell me to find the best speakers if I want to give the best speeches.”

“Yes,” I say with a smile. “Not only that, but someone who’s learned from other great speakers.“ 

“Do you know any good ones?” she teases.

“I’ll ignore that question,” I say, in mock disgust. “There are 4 steps that the best speakers use to create memorable experience for their audiences:

First, they know their presentation – forward, backwards, and sideways.”

“Impressive,” said Rachel with a smile, “Would love to hear that sideways version.”

I continue, “The second step is to present their talks as many times as possible before ‘live’ audiences. Do this to get comfortable with delivering the material, seeing audience reactions, and working on timing.

This is also an opportunity to get constructive feedback, make necessary adjustments, and continue to test your message until it becomes second nature.”

“Sounds like a lot of work,” Rachel interjects.

“It is, Rachel,” I tell her. “It’s common for the highest-paid speakers to give their talks 200 or more times before they get paid. The old saying is true – ‘Anything worth doing is worth doing well.”

“I can’t disagree with that,” says Rachel.

“The third key,” I say, “is to audio and video record each speech.” 

“I was afraid you’d say that,” Rachel quickly responds.

I smile and reply, “That’s the answer I typically get. Here’s the key, Rachel. I, or anyone else can give you feedback. Until you can see or hear what we mean, you won’t truly understand the evaluations.

For example, I often tell clients they need to pause longer. They often respond with something like “I did pause a long time, Michael!” 

Since I’m not interested in engaging in long disagreements about this, I simply suggest they “listen to the recording and hear how long you pause when you speak.”

After they do this, they’ll come back and say, “Wow. I can’t believe how short my pauses were. They felt a lot longer at the time I delivered them.”

“When you listen to the recordings, or watch the video, and get those ‘aha’ moments, you’re experiencing the real benefit of recording,” I tell her. “With this new perspective, you’re in a better frame-of-mind to improve for the next time you speak.

Rachel, after a thoughtful pause, says, “Well, I don’t love the idea of listening to myself, but, if it’ll help me get better. I’ll do it. It makes sense to record myself – and listen to it – if it will help me control my anxiety.”

“There’s one another way to best use your recordings,” I add. “When you watch the recording, watch it three times. The first, at normal speed with the sound on. The second, with the sound off. The third, with the sound off and 2x speed.”

“That’s an odd suggestion,” she says.

When you listen the first time, listen for audience reactions, extraneous noises, and silence. When you hear extra noises, that’s typically a sign that they’re not fully engaged. On the opposite end, when there’s total silence, you have their full attention.

Listen with the sound off to focus on your use of the speaking area. Watch for unnecessary movement, and to determine if you’re ‘anchoring’ your key points to separate parts of the stage, or if you’re standing in one area of it too much.

Listen with the sound off and 2x speed to highlight repetitive or distracting gestures. There’s something about faster speeds that makes these more prominent. There’s a bonus too: it’s a cheap way to entertain yourself, because it’s usually pretty funny.”

Rachel sits back, “Michael, those sound like great tips. I look forward to using them. I’m just wondering – Are you sure they’ll help me with my nerves?”

“Absolutely, Rachel,” I assure her. “They’ve worked for me, my mentors and the people I’ve coached. I promise they’ll make a difference, and you’ll create a better experience for your audience. “Now, I add as I conclude our call, “go practice, and let me know how you do.”

To learn how Rachel did with her speech, check in next week.


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Be Nervous Before You Speak: Pt 2 ultima modifica: 2015-12-12T19:47:08-05:00 da Michael Davis