William Richards of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts offers three tips to shaking off nerves and nailing a big speech.
1. Keep It Simple
Don't let the presence of an audience spook you. Whether you're speaking to a conference room of colleagues, a lecture hall, or just a couple of friends, Richards says, the essence of communication is the same. "Remember, almost all of the speaking we do is in public," he says. "It might only be one person across a table, but there's an element of public in it. Sometimes people make too much of it. Don't make it more complicated and put all that stress on your shoulders."
2. Focus on the Audience
It may send shivers down your spine to think of all of the people who'll be hanging on your every word, but in reality, according to Richards, thinking about them will keep you from obsessing about yourself and all the ways you might make a mistake. "From the moment you walk onstage, look at them," he says. "They're interested. Be interested in them." In turn, he says, you'll naturally begin to deliver what they need. "Are they smiling? You may see a guy who looks miserable. 'OK, I'll chime it up.' Or 'I'll calm them down.' Feel out what they like and don't like as you talk."
3. Breathe Before You Speak
If you're shaking or tense, it's likely because you're holding your breath, sending your body into a panic. To stabilize yourself, take a deep breath. "People like people who are comfortable, and breath is the key to comfort," Richards says. "Breathe into your belly, then your pelvis, and then right down to the bottom of your feet. At that point, you'll be a long way toward really speaking well."