Public Speaking: How To “Focus” Your Nervousness And Use It For Good

Matt KramerOvercoming Fear

public speaking - nervousness

You ready?

When the time to speak arrives…

Go ahead, imagine it for a second. You’re about to stand up in front of a bunch of prying-eyed souls who expect you to deliver something valuable.

Excited yet? Me too. However, it’s what you do with that excitement that determines if it holds you down, or lifts you up like Viagra.

The focus I’m talking about is exhausting and I never really had a way to describe it until I competed in the Toastmasters International Speech Contest earlier this year.

I practiced my speech at my club a few times and on top of that I visited 7 other clubs to practice it some more. These experiences were helpful for getting feedback in order to make my speech better, but there was one thing I was unable to simulate during these practice sessions.

I was unable to match that same level of excitement (nervousness) which I’d been able to channel into a focus during the actual contests.

Perhaps it was due to the size of the club audience not being near the size of audiences at the contests (the clubs had at tops 15-20 people; the contests ranged from 45 to over 100). Or maybe it was the pressure of it being a contest? Whatever the reason, it was hard for me to simulate the same energy and enthusiasm within myself at the club level. It’s not that I didn’t try my best at the clubs I practiced in. I did. I just didn’t feel as hyped nor was I able to use the nervous energy that I did have. In these cases, I’d feel stiff and as if there were a barrier between the audience and me.

That’s not to say I wasn’t a little nervous because there were plenty of new and unfamiliar faces (scary wooo woooo) at the various clubs I visited. In fact, when I first started speaking in front of my club, I actually did have the same level of nervous energy (or more) as I did during the contest. The only difference was where it came from. During my first experiences in public speaking it was mainly due to an overall fear of public speaking (last week’s post dissected this fear) and I had no answer for it–none. It consumed me. Seriously. When I finished with those early speaking experiences I was mentally and physically drained. Imagine getting hit by a bus, only, you survive and have to walk home.

On the other hand, at the contests I was able to channel those feelings of intense nervous energy into useful fuel. I would let the energy pour out into my words and movements on stage (gestures included). The barrier had been lifted and my presence was felt. I felt free.

But, what if we were able to go “all in” every time we stood on stage to speak to an audience? Even at my club level contest I had the same “it’s go time” energy, so I know it can be achieved on a smaller scale. I suppose a contest just brings with it a little bit more importance. But again, couldn’t we add that kind of importance to every single one of our speaking opportunities?

Yes. It’s possible. Here’s how.

By going for it. Letting the energy move freely through you–your words and your body. Don’t fight against the nervousness or get mad that it’s there. And when you’re nervousness isn’t high enough to give you that same high-stakes excitement, consciously pump yourself up and channel whatever nervousness you do have into enthusiasm. Or, in other words, force yourself to have HIGH ENERGY.

I go to an improv workshop once a week and our teacher gave us some solid advice. He said, “Be high energy and likeable.” which is exactly what he’s NOT after he critiques my scenes…well, I take that back, he is high energy during those critiques, just not the other thing (naw, he’s great, you gotta be open to criticism or you’ll never grow, but that’s another day). Anyway, the improv class and that piece of advice have been a great addition to my public speaking tool shed. Add it to yours.

So there you have it. Be HIGH ENERGY and LIKEABLE…even when your nervousness isn’t at a boiling point.

Your audience will thank you.


P.S. If you haven’t already, make sure to grab a copy of the new book. I promise you it was written with the intention of not boring you or wasting your time. Now, I can’t guarantee it won’t do both of those thing 100% of the time. But remember…unintentional. Don’t get all angry and call your lawyer, okay? I got enough problems to deal with. Sheesh.


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matt kramer - tactical talks - public speaking