Pre-Speech Rituals and Coping with Nerves: What do you do to get yourself in the zone? - Alex Merry, Public Speaking Coach

February 20, 2017by Alex0

What do you do to get yourself in the zone before a big speech?!

Last weekend, I escaped London for a few days to enjoy the peace and tranquillity of England’s pastures green (basically, I visited the parents) and after several drinks on Friday night, the topic of conversation seamlessly turned to the 90’s television series, Ally McBeal.

One of the characters in the show had a pre-court ritual which became one of the show’s most famous scenes (see video below).

Standing in front of a mirror, he mimes one of Barry White’s classics and gets his groove on, all in the name of getting in ‘the zone’ before he goes to win his next case. It’s more than just a charming piece of television too. In my experience, the very best speakers have their own tailored pre-speech ritual to help them make sure they are in the right frame of mind for delivering a powerful talk.

It’s about managing your nerves. If communication is a transference of feelings, the last thing you want to give to your audience is nervous energy, right? Most people think that the more you speak, the less nervous you get and that is just simply not true. I have seen experts that are internationally renowned for their speaking get nervous before delivering certain talks, the difference is, they will be nervous about completely different things to those who perhaps are just starting out.

Nerves are a little more complicated than that. Let me explain why.

The most common causes of speech anxiety from inexperience speakers include lack of preparation, judgement from others, stage fright/mind going blank, looking nervous and a lack of self-confidence. They are all internal.

Experienced speakers get nervous when they have to deliver a talk that really matters to them; one where the stakes are really high. Whether it be the founder of a struggling start-up delivering a speech that could make or break their company, a politician delivering the speech that will shape their legacy in history or a best man delivering a speech at their life-long friend’s wedding – each and every single one of these people will be nervous in the lead up to their talk.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter who you are or how much speaking experience you have; if it’s a once in a lifetime talk you will be nervous in the lead up to your talk. All sorts of weird and wonderful rituals happen backstage at TEDxClapham; from chanting affirmations in the mirror to doing 20 burpees to meditating in a toilet cubicle, I’ve seen my fair share.

The mistake isn’t feeling nervous, it’s not having a strategy in place to cope with the impending doom that will come your way so let me give you my top tips for creating a pre-speech ritual that is tailored to YOU!

Before I do that, there is a caveat. None of the tips will help you nearly as much as being prepared. Lack of preparation is the number one cause of pre-speech nerves, and let’s face it, if you have no idea whether the content you are delivering is any good, you have every right to be 💩ing it!

As I say to my TEDx speakers, Rehearse, Refine, Repeat!

Step 1: List your symptoms 🤒.
You’ve got level 1 symptoms (sleepless nights, dry mouth, nausea, shaking hands etc.) and level 2 symptoms – all the ones that affect your personality before you go on stage (become shy, become too serious, too jokey, hyper, short tempered etc., body becomes tense)

Step 2: Prescribe your antidote 🔮.
Level 1 – antidotes include (get an early night, drink lots of water, eat before you feel nauseous etc, stop worrying about your hands [no-one will notice that anyway, unless you’re using a laser pointer that is, in which case stick your elbow into your body when you point]).
For level 2 antidotes it’s all about creating balance. So if you find yourself crawling into your shell, counter it by starting conversations with people at the event. If you become too serious, watch a video that makes you laugh, if you become too hyper, make sure you’ve done some exercise at some point that day, you get my gist.

Step 3: Choose your game song 🎵.
Hugely important. Thanks to Ally McBeal and TEDxClapham speaker, Aimee Bateman, having a song that helps you focus, feel good and level your emotions is hugely powerful. Just note, if it’s Abba, maybe put your headphones in 😳.

Step 4: Make time .
There is NO excuse not to use your ritual every single time you speak. The more you use it the more effective it becomes!

For those of you who are looking to confront these nerves head on and land your first speaking gig of the year, click this link to find out how.


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