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May 2024
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Untie the Knots

Do your nerves get the best of you? Try these simple tricks.

By Joann M. McCabe

Woman looking nervous at lectern with microphone

Do you get nervous before a speech? Your heart pound? Your stomach turn to knots? Do you wonder how other speakers deliver speeches so effortlessly? Some even seem to enjoy the experience.

Here are some tricks they have learned to free themselves of that fistful of knots in the stomach.

Before Speech Day

Organize your speech logically.
Decide on an order for your presentation that allows you to move smoothly from one idea to the next without relying heavily on notes or memorization. If the flow of the speech makes sense to you, you are less likely to forget or worry about forgetting what comes next.

Memorize the opening and closing.
Have a strong opening and closing and use them to build confidence and effectiveness in your presentation. Open with a punch and end with a bang. Commit the beginning and ending to memory.

Concentrate on the message.
Make the subject of your speech the most important idea that you must tell the audience. Focus outward, not inward.

Picture success.
Before you fall asleep at night, imagine yourself giving a successful, confident speech to an enthralled audience. Envision the room, the listeners, the words you speak—even the applause at the end.

Use visual aids to prompt you through your speech.
Use visual aids to walk you and the audience through the presentation, such as a handout, PowerPoint, or prop. Express your main points with visual prompts such as a simple outline or a triangle that shows the three main points of your speech.

Befriend the three P’s:

Practice, practice, and practice! There is no substitute for the confidence adequate preparation gives you.


On Speech Day

Wear clothes that help.
Choose clothing that is comfortable and professional looking. Feel good about how you look so when those eyes are on you, you can be sure that nothing takes away from your message.

Find a quiet place to gather your thoughts and relax.
Use your time in the car driving to the venue or right before you log in for an online presentation to focus. Take the opportunity. Turn off the radio or take out your headphones and practice one last time out loud, at least the opening and ending.

Familiarize yourself with the room.
Visualize yourself speaking, then find space to be alone. The less outside stimuli, the easier it is for you to focus on your message. If it is not possible to isolate yourself for a few minutes, regroup mentally wherever you are, even in a crowd, and gather your energy.

Release tension while you wait to give your speech.
Clench your fists and hold for three to five seconds, then release. Repeat three times. Notice how releasing your hands relaxes your shoulders and jaw. Before the introduction, breathe deeply three times. Try it right now. Inhale slowly, exhale completely. Feel your belly rise and fall. Let your whole body relax.

Take advantage of nerves.

Use them to give an enthusiastic, high-energy speech!


One Last Hint

If direct eye contact breaks your concentration, focus just above the heads of the people in the audience. It will appear as though you are looking directly at them. When you’re giving a speech online, look directly at the camera, not at the people on the screen. Imagine your entire audience is sitting right behind it.

Your audience will wonder how you untied those knots and turned them into beautiful bows.

Editor’s Note: A version of this article originally appeared in the July 2004 issue of the Toastmaster.


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