Public Speaking Jitters

Dear, Anita,

I’ve been asked by my manager to present a report at next month’s departmental meeting. It’s not a lot of people, but I’m still anxious. I’ve got to create a PowerPoint, and I haven’t had much experience speaking in front of a group.
Any advice for me?

Nervous Woman Holding MicrophoneDear, Nervous Kelly,

Your manager has given you a great opportunity to get your oratory feet wet in front of your “peeps.” Your coworkers are friendly faces, and they are going to be rooting for you. Knowing that should alleviate half your fears.

The second key is preparation. I’m sure your manager has given you some guidance on talking points he’d like you to highlight from the report. Avoid text-heavy slides (the detailed information is in the report they’ll receive, after all). To keep your audience engaged, don’t simply read your PowerPoint slides verbatim. Use them as cues to explain, discuss, or go into more detail. Write your script in the Notes section of PowerPoint, and use the Presenter mode.

Once you’ve finalized your PowerPoint and your boss has approved, rehearse your script. Out loud. Close your office door so you won’t have to give your coworkers a spoiler alert. Or bring your laptop home and present to your dog. You may even want to do a dry run in the meeting room, so you won’t have any technical snafus that will sabotage your concentration on the big day.

Public_Speaking_Jitters_0315To calm your nerves, start out with a smile. Try for a conversational delivery (steer clear of a monotone drone) in a voice loud enough for all in the room to hear. Some people rush when they are nervous, so make a point to speak slowly and clearly, but with inflection. Other novice speechmakers tend to hold their breath. Back in the days of 3×5 cards, I used to write “Breathe!” on the bottom of each card. Remember to take a deep breath during each slide transition. Be sure to look up from your notes and make eye contact with your audience (your best buddies will be sure to smile their encouragement). If you lose your train of thought, just pause and regroup. Chances are, no one will even notice the hesitation.

If this is something you may need to do on a regular basis for your position (and in your career down the road) check out Toastmasters International, an organization that helps members improve their communication skills. You can join one of the 14,000+ clubs and practice giving speeches in a supportive environment.

Readers: What’s your best advice for overcoming pre-speech jitters?

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Perfecting Public Speaking

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Oscar Rodriguez
    Apr 08, 2015 @ 15:16:20

    You might want to write down down the key points in each slide on 2 x 5 cards and keep the notes on the podium. Once you have read the notes for the current slide, walk from left to right along the platform while conveying the message in the current slide. Make sure keep good eye contact with the audience. Move back to the podium each time you change slides to check your notes on the new slide. Moving around will release the tension and allow you to use fear to your advantage.


  2. Tiffany Lieu
    Apr 08, 2015 @ 11:34:03

    Of course nothing beats preparation for any upcoming speeches but I do think without adequate verbal flow and smoothness to the speech delivery the speech might not come out more naturally. We can have a better starting point with public speaking. The other aspects of speech jitters probably have to be dealt with at a more psychological level. I have been working on my verbal skills over the years and did have couple of chances to go to the podium in the classrooms with fluent English but was not always smooth. I was able to still talk without feeling seriously distracted but the verbal skills made me have to more thinking at times before going to the next sentences.


  3. Moonstone Mary
    Apr 07, 2015 @ 13:58:02

    Good to the point article. I’m a musician in addition to being a jewelry maker. As such, I face performance jitters in both roles (doing shows to sell my jewelry or teaching classes). When I was giving instrument lessons, I told my students to run around the house (get their heart rate up), then practice their solos. Sometimes I do this so I’m used to dealing with an accelerated heart rate while performing.


    • anitaclew
      Apr 07, 2015 @ 14:17:24

      I’ve never heard that advice before, Moonstone Mary! I’ll get my heart rate up before practicing my next speech. Thanks for sharing.


  4. Oscar Rodriguez
    Apr 07, 2015 @ 09:15:06


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Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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