When delivering a speech, your body movements tell almost as much about you as what you say. Eye contact, body orientation, posture, facial expressions and gestures play into how your audience perceives your message. When we get nervous our body can betray us and we feel tormented by an army of nervous body signals
- our throat goes dry
- our knees go wobbly
- the message we want to share evaporates from our head
- we let our presentation nerves get the best of us
If this happens often enough we begin to see our body as a powerful saboteur and there is nothing we can do to stop it. When our body betrays us we would gladly drop the mic and run. But there is a way to tame those body signals that show you’re nervous. Here’s how to tame those pesky body signals that show you’re nervous::
Ask Yourself: Why are YOU here?
If you’re just speaking to ‘take up time’, it will feel rather pointless – and no wonder you’ll want to rush through it. There is too much meaningless or ego-centric speaking out there anyway, so why add to it? But if you have a good reason to speak you will be willing to take up the time and space of your audience. A good reason to speak might be:
- You have some information that would benefit your audience
- You could improve their day a little bit through your energy
- You have a new perspective that hasn’t been heard before
- People will be more comfortable if you show leadership
- They want to hear you speak, even if you don’t want it!
Notice that all of these reasons focus more on your audience than they do on you & your nerves.
Rules? We don’t need no stinkin’ rules !
Believe it or not, for most of my younger years I was terrified of public speaking. It was simply the worst thing I could imagine doing. One of the things that made me nervous was the established approach to public speaking. When I looked for advice, all I found was a series of rules:
- Good public speakers do eye contact like this
- Good public speakers don’t fiddle as they’re speaking
- Good public speakers don’t show that you’re nervous
- Good public speakers stand here
- Good public speakers say this sort of thing…
Above all, those rules were shouting, “Don’t be yourself, be someone else.”
What I realised was that the more we try to be someone else as a speaker – the more we lose what makes us appealing in our own way. I found the Six Qualities of an Inspiring Speaker… read more about them here.
There are no true “rules” of body language, yet our choice of how we use our body signals affects how we are able to get our message across. Instead of rules, I would encourage you to develop awareness about how your body language impacts your message. This will make you a more flexible and powerful speaker who has the power to do what the audience needs in that moment.
Look at it like this…
Start at different parts of your body from the top down. Get curious. Think about all the different ways you might use different parts of your physical being; your eyes, hands, or even posture in general. What do you already do well with your body language that helps to inspire your audience? What do you do that distracts your audience, or reduces your impact?
- What am I doing in the moment as a speaker?
- What’s going on with my eyes?
- What’s going on with my hands?
- What’s going on with my body?
- What’s going on with my feet?
- How does this positively affect my audience (what’s good about it?)?
- What could I do differently and better to inspire my audience?
Related article: Top Ten Things NOT to do with your hands when you speak.
Attitude impacts your nervous body signals
Have you ever experienced someone practically hiding at the corner of the stage during their speech or shuffling in with shoulders slouched and slumped?
Audiences experience every nuance of a speaker… the way they look, walk, dress, and speak, within a split second of a speaker beginning. When you present yourself with an attitude of fear or discomfort it sets the rest of the stage for your entire presentation.
Start with a negative attitude towards your speaking abilities and your whole being will show it by trying to hide (sometimes subtly, sometimes literally) from the audience. Even if you ‘put on a show’ your audience can often still tell subconsciously.
If your attitude is more positive, your body will become more natural, open and confident.
When we feel like that, we don’t need a list of rules – our body simply knows what to do. You CAN tame those body signals that are betraying you that are showing you’re nervous.