I have given thousands of speeches and in my personal and professional lives and also been interviewed on TV, on the radio, and for print/web publications. There is no doubt that the more I present in public, the easier it gets. Nevertheless, I still get jittery before every speech or interview and my mouth goes dry, almost on command, as soon as I get started. No amount of confidence, skill, preparation, or hydration has any effect on this – it is just a biologic response to the idea that everyone is looking at me. I recently gave a speech to the GE Appliances team in Louisville, KY, and despite a very friendly audience and a set of topics I’ve discussed many times, the nerves were right there, like an old friend paying me a visit and turning my mouth into the Mohave Desert.
These nerve attacks used to bother me – my heart would race before a speech knowing that my nerves were there ready to jangle me into submission. But to paraphrase a Broadway saying, “The speech must go on,” so I’ve concluded that I have to embrace the jitters and use them to provide energy and focus to my speeches. I concentrate on knowing the first two or three sentences I’m going to deliver, recognizing that once I get past that, the nerves turn into energy – and the energy becomes the power that drives my talks.
Beyond the standard “Do you get nervous when you speak” question, I get asked frequently about the “secret to success” for a great speech or interview. Like many such questions there really is no universal, certain answer – great communications does not lend itself to cookie-cutter recipes or mathematical equations. While there is some natural talent or affinity involved, great speakers know that the art form requires practice, perseverance, self-critique, and reinvention to achieve success on a consistent basis. In my view, anybody can be good at this if you are willing to put in the time and energy to get it right.
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