Nearly everyone experiences, to some degree, a rise in energy before they speak in front of groups.
This energy has a bad rap, and we call it all kinds of nasty names: nerves, anxiety, panic, fear.
Let's call it something else. Let's call it excitement.
When exposed to powerful stimuli, the human body releases chemicals that cause rapid heartbeat, sweating, dry mouth, shaking, butterflies, etc. Nerves before a talk, or the thrill of a surprise party? Your body doesn't know the difference!
So, change your mind and your body will listen. Tell yourself that the nauseating butterflies are there to help you. Say, "Yes, I'm feeling a rise in energy; that's precisely what I should feel...and I know how to use that energy to my advantage."
Be prepared. Be rehearsed. Be breathing.
Yes, breathing really does help.
In the movie Lincoln with Daniel Day Lewis, the scenes that take place in Congress are a perfect example of using vocal power to influence an audience. The politicians of the day were forced to practice oratory techniques out of necessity. There were no microphones, and the only way to get attention was to earn it with rhetoric and vocal prowess.
It occurred to me that the invention of the microphone may have meant the end of taking personal responsibility for our vocal power. These days we get away with oral murder. We mumble, we don't project, we talk too fast, and we speak in a monotone with no thought paid to intonation. The microphone will do it all for us, right?
Wrong. Time to step up.
Get comfortable with volume without a mic. Get into the biggest conference room you can and bounce your voice off the back wall.
Stop mumbling. Do old-fashioned grade school tongue twisters. You know the ones I mean...Peter Piper picked a peck of wood-chucking woodchucks with Betty Botta at the sea shore.
If you must use a mic, practice with it. Get familiar with the intimidating sound of your amplified voice so you can use intonation without scaring yourself.
If you want to be a great orator, start incorporating articulation, volume, and intonation into your everyday speaking. That way when the spotlight is on you, your voice is ready to be loud and proud.
Sometimes I have to be brutal, so here it is: if you are not practicing before a big presentation and don't want to start, there is no help for you. Period.
You may resist practice because in your experience it doesn't work anyway, and it's such a colossal pain.
That's because you're probably not practicing the right things in the right way.
The Dos and Don'ts of Practicing:
Do over-rehearse the introduction and close of your talk. People remember the first and last things you say, so say them with power.
Don't practice the whole talk over and over. It's usually unnecessary and frustrating.
Do practice delivering your greeting and your name with confidence. Really. It helps.
Don't thank them for coming, unless culturally you have to. It can sound self-deprecating.
Do practice out loud, on your feet.
Don't practice in the car, or at your desk. It is a waste of time.
Do practice eye contact; use more than you think is appropriate, and more than is comfortable.
Don't practice in the mirror.
Do practice using visual aids so you don't read from slides and lose all eye contact.
Don't hold pointers or clickers or pens or notes, or anything else in your hands. It prevents you from using gestures.