How to calm your nerves just before a speech

Updated to Business, Speaking on January 23, 2023.

Welcome to my mid-week blog post. This is where I’ll be sharing quick tips on how to be a better speaker.

I’m starting with about 40 topics that I’ll post every week that you can read in 5 minutes, or less. Good?

The topics are all based on questions I get asked by other speakers and from people who want to become speakers. My hope is this is where I can point people when they ask these questions in the future and as well that this is a good repository of knowledge for you.

You can see all of posts by selecting “Tools and Tips” in the categories at the top of this page.

Here we go with the first post!

How to calm your nerves

Every speaker I know gets gets nervous before speaking, so do I. Even after 1,100 presentations I still get nervous.

I’m in good company, so does Jagger, Bono, McCartney, heck even Tony Robbins gets nervous before speaking.

But understand this:

It’s a damn good thing you get nervous – the trick it to know how to use it to your advantage.

Your sympathetic nervous system is designed to protect you. When in danger it slides down the pole and goes on alert – heart rate accelerates, blood rate rises, dopamine, serotonin and adrenaline start pumping and you get laser focussed. That’s what you want – you want to be ready.

But, not too much.

Recently, at a conference I was presenting at, I watched as a number of managers got on stage to present to their colleagues. One after another, they were quickly incapacitated by an attack of the nerves. It was uncomfortable to watch.

If you want to avoid being overrun by a case of the nerves, here’re some quick ways:

  • breath – slow, long, diaphragmatic breathing is always your first line of defence. Start slowing your breathing before you need to.
  • focus on how you want the speech to end, instead of what you want to avoid. Create a clear picture of the applause, attach a feeling to that, and hold that thought.
  • practice and rehearse your opening. You know this is when you’ll be the most nervous, so be prepared.
  • eat lightly before you present. You should feel satiated, but not full and not buzzing from stimulants like caffeine and sugar.
  • let it go – your preparation is done, you’ve made it this far. Any fussing over notes in the last few minutes will only increase your stress levels. Stop worrying, focus on the present and trust yourself.

If you want to present on stage you’ll get nervous – that part’s guaranteed.

Imagining the audience naked might work for somebody, but I’ve found the advice above to be practical and a lot less distracting.