How to own the room: overcoming your nerves as a speaker

How to own the roomBy Viv Groskop

As a comedian and presenter, I’m often asked to work with women in the corporate space who are preparing for interviews or presentations.

I find a lot of the same topics come up constantly: the fear of speaking too fast, the fear of nerves taking over and ruining something you’ve spent a long time preparing, the fear of going blank halfway through.

My new book How to Own the Room: Women and the Art of Brilliant Speaking tackles the elephant in the room: that there are very few guides out there aimed exclusively at women or focusing only on amazing women speakers. Which is fascinating to me, as I know so many women who are fixated on overcoming their fears and channelling their inner Michelle Obama. Plus, we have never need great women speakers more than we need them right now.

It’s not as if women the monopoly on insecurity in this area. I know this from personal experience as I’ve worked with lots of mixed groups and seen plenty of nervous male stand-up comedians. But women are, I think, more able to talk about and focus on their anxieties. This can be a positive, as if you can identify a problem, you can fix it. But I also see it holding some women back: they can articulate their worst fears so well and so comfortably that they get stuck on them. Here are my basics for overcoming nerves and showing yourself at your best. They’re designed for women. But I’m pretty sure they would work for men too. Though few of them have upper arms as fabulous as Michelle Obama.

1. Think about your physicality

There’s a reason Michelle Obama has those amazing arms. You don’t have to be an Olympic athlete. But good speakers ensure they have enough lung capacity to project and a strong core to hold good posture.

2. Anchor yourself to the ground

Thinking about the feeling of the soles of your feet on the floor is literally, er, grounding. Not only does it relax your posture but it also distracts your monkey mind from all the anxieties and nerves that might be swirling around. If in doubt, send your thoughts to your feet. It’s immediately calming.

3. Gloss over the haters

Every audience, whether big (a packed auditorium) or small (your progress meeting with your boss), has haters in it. Learn to ignore people who are sleepy, unfocused, negative or hostile. Their reaction may have nothing to do with your speaking.

4. Channel the nerves

Nerves, anxiety, butterflies, jitters… Call them what you want, they’re completely normal and even the most seasoned performers from Adele to Barbra Streisand experience them. Expect nerves, don’t fight them, embrace them and ride them out.

5. Take time to breathe

Nerves lessen with exposure and can be calmed with breathing exercises (think four counts in, seven counts out). Some people also swear by “emotional freedom technique” (tapping gently with a finger to an acupressure point like the inside of your wrist).

6. Dress for comfort not for show

This is more important than wearing something colourful or striking or that “looks good on camera”. The first thing that “reads” to an audience is how relaxed you are. So choose an outfit that makes you feel calm, authentic and confident.

7. Rehearse the practical stuff

If you get offered a sound check, always take it. Do a dry run of your walk up and your walk off. Know how you will be introduced and how you will get off stage. Where will your notes be? Where will your glass of water be?

8. Be open to anything

It’s great to have the perfect speech ready to go. But it’s even more useful to feel ready to rip that speech up if the moment demands it and go with the flow. Practise spontaneity in low-pressure environments.

9. Record yourself

Whether audio or video, however painful it is to watch back (and if you’re human, it’s painful), this is the quickest way to see what you do well and what you could do better. Enjoy!

Viv GroskopAbout the author

Viv Groskop is a comedian, executive performance coach and author of How to Own the Room: Women and the Art of Public Speaking (Transworld, £11.99)

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