Jeff Stephenson, P.E., is the Team Leader of [...]
We recently had Bill Bugg, a retired music professor from Samford University and opera, Broadway and cabaret style singer, lead a Lunch and Learn for our Team Leaders. As leaders at Sain Associates, they have opportunities to represent our firm through occasional public speaking engagements. Bill offered some useful suggestions about what happens to the body in these situations and how to handle nerves. Here are some tips from him we hope everyone will find useful.
In the beginning I was nervous about performing. I suffered all of the physical impairments that go along with that, like dry mouth. But I enjoy the medium of public speaking and am very much at home in front of an audience. Many others are not – civil engineers and others.
When you get nervous about a presentation or performance, it causes stress. That causes tension that hinders the body’s ability to function normally. As a result, your breathing may be impaired, and you won’t get enough oxygen, which could cause you to not think as clearly or perform your best.
Tension can also decrease the voice’s ability to amplify, which results in a stressed sound. It’s not relaxed, open or confident. You get a sound people won’t want to hear.
To prevent this and give the best performance possible, try these tips for controlling nerves.
- Posture. As you stand to make a presentation, posture is very important. If you are slumped or in a knot, you hinder the body’s ability to take in air.
- Remember to Breathe – Breathe deeply before you begin. Even, smooth breathing ventilates the lungs. Allow lower muscles of the abdomen to work in supporting the air.
- Know Your Material – Learn your material well enough so you know exactly what to say, how to make your points effectively and be able to communicate clearly.
- Practice and Plan – Make sure you have a plan B just in case something unexpected happens, like the power goes out or you can’t open the slideshow to go along with your presentation. Practice plan A and B by talking to an audience and recording yourself. Watch your recording with someone else so they can help you discern your weaknesses and strengths.
- Be Yourself – You want to come across as informed but approachable. Present your information as if it were a story with natural gestures. Engage the audience as if the presentation is a conversation even if the audience is not talking back.
- Go slow – You will invariably talk faster than you realize. Be conscious of slowing your pace.
So next time you speak in public or to a group of people, however large or small it might be, take a deep breath and check your posture. Continue to breathe slowly through your entire body as you’re introduced and your talk begins. Remember these tips, and you will do great!
Sain Associates, Inc., is headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, with offices in Cullman, Alabama, Pulaski, Tennessee and Mandeville, Louisiana. Sain is a site engineering, traffic/transportation engineering and planning and land surveying firm with experience in more than thirty states.