At the Podium

Your body language during the speech will project nervousness or confidence. Stand straight, do not grip the lectern as if it is the only thing holding you up, and do not shift back and forth on your legs too much — stand comfortably balanced. If your hands are trembling, do not hold any paper when you speak. Be aware of fidgeting, jangling the keys in your pocket, brushing your hair, adjusting your glasses, or other nervous habits. If sweat appears on your face, just dab at it with a folded handkerchief. Do not look at the back wall to avoid stares — just shift your eyes every couple of sentences to someone new and smile at each person. Speak clearly and with enthusiasm.

Fact

The truth is that speakers assume the audience will notice nervousness more than most members actually will. Speakers are projecting their feelings onto the audience, which is generally unaware there is any problem.

And if you feel nervous energy, know that it can be channeled to convey enthusiasm, so be grateful to ride that wave. Your audience will be less likely to be bored.

One manifestation of nerves is the tendency to exaggerate the odds of failure and the consequences. But what really will happen if you just cannot tamp down all the symptoms of nervousness? If you stumble over your words and appear a little shaky, this may actually make you seem more sympathetic to the audience — you would appear humble, sincere, and not too slick.

And what is the real likelihood of 100 percent failure? Probably zero. Maybe you will not completely persuade a majority of the people to your point of view, but the odds are you will at least inform most and influence some.

Alert

Do not bother trying to keep calm by imagining your audience naked or on the toilet. Although they have had their advocates (including Winston Churchill and Carol Burnett), these techniques are usually not effective and could be distracting.

The worst-case scenarios are not so bad after all. As feminist leader Gloria Steinem, who has suffered stage fright all her life, commented: “There is no right way to speak, only your way; you don't die; and it's worth it.”

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