Sweaty palms, nervous stomach and a blank mind describe a victim of "speech anxiety." A little anxiety can be beneficial to performance; too much can distract you from your best performance.
If you feel nervous in front of a group, you have lots of company! Many Americans report that they fear speaking before a group more than they fear snakes, disease, and death. Following are suggestions for reducing your anxiety and making it work for you!
"I love to teach this class because I see my students improve before my eyes. I can provide a safe atmosphere and individualized coaching resulting not only in improved Presentation Skills, but also increased self confidence."
"You received glowing feedback... terrific... relaxed and comfortable... very thorough and gentle... I have improved immensely..."
Summary of evaluations from Presentation Skills
Trainer: Cathy Bolger
Make sure you are well-prepared. Practice in any way that you can, for instance, practice into a tape recorder, in front of a mirror or to family members. In addition, make sure you are well rested and that you arrive early.
Imagining the positive outcome you want can be beneficial to your performance. Visualize yourself successfully giving your speech. See yourself calmly and confidently handling questions.
Focus on Intent
Focus away from your own performance and toward your positive intention as a presenter. Think to yourself, "I really want the audience to (understand the issue, take action,...)." Realize that most audiences want to accomplish their own objectives for being there rather than evaluate your speaking skills.
According to psychologist Albert Ellis, we create our own anxiety through irrational thoughts. By disputing these thoughts, we can control anxiety. What are you telling yourself about your speaking skills? For instance, you may be thinking, "If I look or sound nervous, they won't take me seriously." Dispute this with "It's OK to be a little nervous, I can use the nervousness to help show enthusiasm."
Maintain a heightened conversational style. Think of dialoguing with your audience. Talk to the audience rather than at them. Make eye contact, vary your voice, and use gestures. Indeed, I tell my classes, that if they use these skills, they will appear in control and therefore less nervous.
Get your audience involved right away. Not only will it take the focus off of you, it will break the ice by relaxing them (and you as well). For instance, you could ask for a show of hands by saying "How many of you..."?
Use Visual Aids
If you effectively use visual aids, they can act as a road map for you and your audience. Visual Aids, used at strategic points will ensure coverage of key points, and therefore build your confidence.
If you would like information on managing speech anxiety, as well as skills needed for effective presentations, I recommend Bullet Proof Presentations by Michael G. Campbell. Career Press, 2002.