Do You Suffer From Butterfies When You Speak?

By adelehowell-pryce, 24 October, 2011

Here's what to do about those butterflies!

Most public speakers will tell you that they suffer from being nervous and having butterflies in their stomach before they are due to deliver a speech.  So if you were thinking that you were alone in this ……. Don’t worry …… you aren’t.

Good speakers will tell you that having butterflies is a good sign.  By this they mean that you haven’t become complacent or blasé and that because of that you will probably deliver a better speech.  The trick they assure us is to “get the butterflies swimming in formation”!

So ….. how do we learn to keep our nerves under control?  I think it is important to realise that nervousness seldom comes from not knowing your topic well enough.  It comes rather from the “thought” of actually presenting it to a group of people.  It is more about the fear of the unknown than anything else. 


Here are my four recommendations to help control your nerves.

  1. Practice.  As we just stated most of our fears come from the “unknown” factor …. What if something goes wrong with my presentation.  What if I forget what I was saying?  What if? …… what if?  The best way to control this sort of thinking is simply to put some more practice in and don’t modify your speech too much.  You could also get someone to give you a prompt & practice starting your speech from different places within your speech.  If you can do that – you will be fine – it is then just a matter of giving yourself a mental pep-talk just before your speech.
  2. Breathe.  When you are nervous, your breathing becomes more rapid and more shallow.  In some ways this physical response re-inforces your nervousness and can even intensify the symptoms.  This is how people get full blown anxiety attacks and hyperventilate.  If you think of it this way, then it is logical that you need to slow your breathing down.  The simple act of “focusing” on your breath and consciously slowing it down by taking deep, regular breaths automatically makes you feel calmer and more relaxed.  You could even build this into a routine that you follow before you get up to speak.  Deepen your breaths and feel the power and the confidence that it gives you.
  3. Smile.  Once again nervous tension evidences itself in physical symptoms.  Your mouth is dry, you could lick or purse your lips, and even clench your jaw or teeth together.  This tension can cause havoc with our vocal cords when we start to speak, making our voice a little tight and squeaky or make you feel that you have a frog in your throat.  The easiest way to release this tension is a great big beaming smile.  This will not only let the audience warm to you immediately and relax them …. Some may even smile back.  It will work to release the tension in your throat and neck and allow you to start to speak with certainty and projection right from your opening words.
  4. Change your Body Language.  When we are nervous we hold the tension in our body as well.  We may fiddle with our fingers, clasp them tight or jiggle our legs.  You may tend to hunch your shoulders and lean forward a little, almost trying to curl your body into the nice, safe “foetal” position.  Needless to say, none of this presents a confident picture to the world.  The good news is that we can fool our bodies, just by changing the way we are sitting or standing.  If we simply stand up straight and tall, shoulders back and head held high you will instantly feel better and the difference in the picture you present to the world is 100%.


So, to banish your fears or at least start to control them, a combination of all 4 techniques WILL work for you.  Practice your speech, take deep regular breaths, greet your audience with a wide, beaming, genuine smile and walk tall, proud and confident to the podium!


You CAN master those butterflies and then you will “knock their socks off” with your next speech.



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