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March 2001 - Controlling the Butterflies

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John A. Kline, PhD jkline@klinespeak.com
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March 2001

Controlling the Butterflies

People often ask me how to control the queasy feeling of "butterflies in their stomach" or nervousness when speaking. Control is the operant word. While we may not always be able to prevent nervousness or stage fright, there are ways to control those butterflies that seem to plague so many speakers.

  1. Use them to your advantage. Realize that nervousness is natural and in some ways helpful. Most speakers are nervous before they speak. But experienced speakers use that nervousness to provide extra energy and motivate themselves. Nervousness can push us to do a little extra preparation and cause us to strive harder to do a good job.
  2. Practice. Run through the speech in a situation that is as much as possible like the actual situation in which you will be speaking. Also, try to practice at least once in front of others; otherwise, there is the tendency to stop and start and not actually say the words. Talking into a tape recorder or VCR will often accomplish the same thing as having an audience, plus you will be able to go back and listen to what you said.
  3. Be enthusiastic. Enthusiasm can replace fear. And the more enthusiastic you are about your subject, the more involved the audience will be both with you and with what you are saying. Audience involvement translates into interest. And when the audience shows positive interest in the speaker and speech, nervousness is reduced.
  4. Think well of your audience. The listeners in a structured environment are for the most part the same ones that you enjoy speaking with in a less structured environment. See audience members as warm human beings with an interest in what you have to say. Remember that most audiences want you to do a good job. It makes listening easier for them.
  5. Start well. Many speakers give too little attention to how they will begin the speech. Others are so anxious to start that they begin before they are ready. Take time to arrange your notes and look at the audience before you start talking. And then know how you are going to begin. A good beginning sets the tone for the rest of the speech. On the other hand, it is difficult to overcome a poor start. A good start eases nervousness; a poor one adds to it.

Next time I will discuss techniques for beginning a speech. Until then, keep those butterflies flying in formation.

Montgomery, AL

March 2001 - Controlling the Butterflies
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