Most of us dream of being that person whose speaking was so outstanding that it lived in the memories of its audience years after it was presented. For me, one of the most vivid recollections of a speech I listened to was one I saw over six years ago, yet I can still picture it as perfectly as if I was there last week.
Unfortunately, it was not the topic that was so memorable; in fact, I doubt if I actually recall one word that the man said. He was certainly not a boring speaker – he was one of the deacons in our church, and he was giving his first sermon – but rather the fact that he was visibly nervous was what kept my attention from the importance of what he was actually saying. You see, in his timidity in front of the congregation, the speaker was unbuttoning and buttoning his dress shirt, and he didn’t even realize it.
Nervousness can be a funny thing; at least, until we’re the ones who fall victim to it. But whether you are a seasoned competitor who has been in a debate league for nearly a decade or a first-year student considering your first speech, nerves are something each one of us has experienced or will at some point.
This seemingly uncontrollable force can manifest itself in many different ways. Some of us get the tournament “jitters,” while others experience rapid heartbeats, dry mouths, shaky hands, and stuttering. On the more severe side of the spectrum is throwing up and, of course, the classic – and spontaneous – bursting into tears.
While I can’t claim to have a complete cure – in other words, no promises that tomorrow you’ll wake up and be a fearless speaker from now till eternity, – there are several tips and tricks that can best those butterflies and knock out your nervousness.
Believe it or not, one of the simplest steps you can do to be comfortable presenting your speech is reviewing it over and over. The more memorized you are going into your presentation, the calmer you are likely to be, as well as being able to have the confidence that you are prepared. While practice might not make completely perfect, the benefits of being organized and able to focus on how you are presenting instead of struggling to recall your words when you are in front of your audience is going to make a huge difference in your stress level.
If the tournament butterflies are something you struggle with, think about eliminating other sources of jitters; in other words, no more coffee or caffeinated energy drinks before you are scheduled to speak! Staying properly hydrated isn’t just for good health – it can reduce stress considerably when your system is not dealing with a rush from sugar or caffeine, since you are likely experiencing enough from adrenaline in the first place. Stick with drinking water with lemon or herbal teas, and hold the coffee until after your competition or speaking event.
One of my favorite verses for meditating on before I have to speak publicly is 2 Timothy 1:7 – “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” Often, I’ll take time to pray through it, asking the Father to grant me each of the things He has promised, and to keep away the fear so that I can speak clearly and boldly for His glory; and, really, this has been the greatest help in conquering nervousness, especially if I ask a friend to pray along with me. What has ended up happening is that at the speech tournaments I competed in, many of the competitors have started up a time of prayer specifically before each round of speech and debate. Not only has this eased a lot of tension, but the friendships that have sprung from and grown through this have lasted a long time.
So, you practiced and practiced your speech with ease and confidence, you have been careful to stay hydrated on liquids that have no caffeine or sugar, and you and your friends met together for prayer before your round. You are in the middle of your speech, but suddenly, just as you are reaching your second point, your mouth goes dry and your mind goes completely blank… What do you do?
Enter the graceful pause. This secret weapon isn’t just for memory lapses, however; it is also a tactical approach to dealing with a suddenly shaky voice or even a dry mouth. Just be careful to keep your timing appropriate; more than a few seconds and it can be awkward. But pausing long enough to take a deep breath and smile at your audience can make all the difference between a speech that ended successfully and a speech that was cut off in the middle. In conclusion, nervousness is natural. But with a bit of forethought and a few simple tips, you can learn to knock out your nervousness and deliver one of those speeches that impacts for a lifetime.
Julia is a Team Member for Lasting Impact!