70% of the adult population face communication anxiety, according to researcher James McCroskey, so it’s no surprise that pitches, presentations and other types of public speaking cause sleepless nights.
Whether you’re selling yourself or a product, nerves are easy for your audience to pick up on and can undermine your credibility. So how to stay calm, even in the highest pressure pitches?
1. Know your product from the inside out
Audiences spot a blagger a mile off, so don’t try faking it. Deeply understand the ideas you’re trying to sell and speak from a position of knowledge.
Doing your preparation will help you feel certain and in-charge when critical eyes are watching you.
2. …And admit that you don’t know everything
Nobody expects you to know everything and if you’re asked a question you can’t answer it’s much better to be honest and humble than to make it up. The way you communicate can either build or destroy trust in your relationship.
When you give yourself permission to be imperfect, your system relaxes and you become more likeable – and more confident – as a communicator.
3. Passion Sells
Sales people who speak from the heart rather than only from the head are much more likely to succeed, yet we often focus on logic rather than passion in building a persuasive argument.
Find your passion for your product and be brave enough to let it show. The best news is that when you let your passion show you might even start to enjoy speaking in public!
4. Overcome the Predator Reflex
When we’re speaking in public a primordial safety mechanism triggers within the body. Our system tells us that we’re being looked at by a pack of predators and the fight, flight or freeze impulse is activated. If we’re not careful, we’ll turn defensive, we’ll rush through the talk, or we’ll become smaller or shyer than usual.
To overcome this very natural reflex, the first step is to notice and accept it. When you do that, you start to tame its influence.
5. The Audience is King
Most speakers think much more about themselves than they do about their audience. This is a mistake, because it means that you are less likely to give the audience what they want. It also makes you feel more nervous, because the situation has become ‘all about me’, so there’s more to lose.
A better approach is to seek to serve the audience, so that they get what they need. Whilst you’re thinking about them, you’ll obsess less about yourself.
6. Give yourself permission to impact the audience
Whenever you stand up to speak, it is your responsibility to change the minds of your audience about your subject, yet few speakers actually give themselves permission to create change. Consciously decide to lead your audience. Consciously decide that your product or idea is beneficial for your audience. Own your impact.
When you do this, your body language will naturally shift from uncertainty or subservience, to confidence and stability.
7. Create a dialogue
The best speakers involve their audience in their presentation so that it feels like a dialogue rather than a lecture. You can do this by asking questions, making connective eye contact and leaving space for the audience to reflect on your words.
The great news is a dialogue is much more calming for your nervous system than a monologue as you are with rather than ‘at’ or ‘against’ your audience.
8. Don’t take the nerves too seriously
Remember that if you are nervous, you’re not alone. All speakers experience nerves at some point and I’ve come to see nerves as a good sign – that I’m doing something important.
The difference between the rookies and the experts is not whether or not they experience nerves. The difference is that the experts don’t take the nerves seriously. When you feed the nerves the get bigger, when you don’t take them too seriously, they pass.
By Sarah Lloyd-Hughes, speaker on confidence and inspiration, an award winning social entrepreneur, founder of Ginger Training & Coaching and author of “How to be Brilliant at Public Speaking” (Pearson) out now, priced £12.99.