5 Ways to Handle Nerves

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One piece of advice that seems to have made its way into the canon of public speaking tips is “just picture the audience in their underwear.” As seen in this old Brady Bunch episode, this is terrible advice that just won’t die.

As a public speaking coach and corporate trainer, I would like to kill this advice once and for all.

In his excellent radio interview on NPR with Regina Brett, Scott Berkun traces the origins of the underwear advice possibly to Winston Churchill, who while being an excellent speaker, “was also an alcoholic, so a lot of his advice about what he did probably doesn’t apply to most people.”

As I teach in my workshops, there are a lot of things you can do about nerves, but adding the visual of your audience in their underwear most likely will short circuit and distract you from why you’re speaking in the first place.

OK, so what CAN you do about nerves?

  1. Normalize your nerves. Whether they’ll admit it or not, everyone feels nerves or some adrenaline when they get up to present.

  2. Nerves hate laughter. Watch a funny video, or find something to laugh about beforehand.

  3. Practice out loud at least 5 times. Knowing your content will alleviate a lot of your anxiety.

  4. Work out / get physical to expel some of your nervous energy. Even a brisk walk will help.

  5. If possible, chat with your audience beforehand so that you have some friendly faces to connect with.