Giving a speech can be stressful -- sometimes even terrifying. Reducing that stress not only helps the speaker personally, but it also improves the quality of the speech. Tips for relieving speech-related stress include being prepared, picking a topic that interests you and acting confident.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Athletes practice before competitions and students practice before tests; preparation is the key to success. In the case of giving a speech, being prepared generally decreases anxiety, and specifically reduces the possibility of forgetting or losing your place. If there is a time limit for the presentation, practicing with a timer gives you a sense of pace for the delivery, and acclimates you to the pressures of a ticking clock. Practice the speech many times -- until it is nearly or completely memorized -- and begin practicing early. Feeling confident with the material involves not only how many times you have gone over the speech, but also how long you have been reviewing it.
Pick an Interesting Topic
It is far easier to research and prepare for a presentation on a subject that you care about than one you find boring or irrelevant. You will also display more enthusiasm and passion for a subject you enjoy. Your interest in the topic will directly affect your presentation of the material, which in turn affects how the speech is received. So pick a topic you are interested in to gain the audience's interest.
What's the Worst That Can Happen?
Giving a speech will never be catastrophic. Ask yourself, what’s the worst thing that could happen? What would you do if that did happen? Remember that the worst scenario is never as bad as you think it will be. We are all human and sometimes we make mistakes; even the president sometimes makes mistakes in his speeches. At the end of the day, the audience is rooting for you; they want to hear what you have to say. And many of them have been in your shoes.
Fake It Till You Make It
Naturally, you want to do all you can to reduce stress and anxiety before you speak. This means monitoring the voice in your head to avoid pessimism and negative self-talk. However, when it comes time to speak, if you haven't exorcised all your stress, then it's time to fake it. Members of the University of Pittsburgh's Speaking in the Disciplines initiative write that "if you act confident your audience will assume that you are." Audience members' respect and positive feedback for the confidence they see will help to ease your tension, and will promote genuine confidence as the speech progresses. A common first step for novices is to admit to the audience that you are nervous. This doesn't set a confident tone, and can even make the audience uncomfortable. Smiling, breathing and not rushing through your speech are all tips for appearing -- and eventually becoming -- a confident speaker.
Soheila Battaglia is a published and award-winning author and filmmaker. She holds an MA in literary cultures from New York University and a BA in ethnic studies from UC Berkeley. She is a college professor of literature and composition.