It’s the day you’ve been building up to and your speech is in a matter of hours. Well done on getting this far and taking the right steps to ensure you feel prepared for a big public speech and hopefully a bit more relaxed than you thought you would.
If all has gone to plan, by now you will have had a great night sleep and woken up fresh ready to tackle your speech in front of a live audience.
You might be tempted right now to go get a cup of coffee and try to calm your last-minute nerves but before you do, take 5 minutes to read on for tips that will keep you cool, calm and collected before you take to the stage.
Today’s strategy will be a lot different to a month or week ago. Today your focus is on being in the right frame of mind to give a great speech. You want to impress the people in the room, and to do that you want to feel positive and enthusiastic before, during and after the speech.
Your adrenaline is probably kicking in now and your body’s natural fight or flight response is activated. We also speak about this in this blog post in which we have rated the world’s top public speakers.
Seeing as running is not an option at this stage, your strategy needs to focus on keeping your mind calm.
Keep your breakfast light with a banana which is a tried and tested method of keeping your energy levels high.
Sip on plenty of water with lemon if possible, to keep your throat open and your body cool.
Your outfit was hopefully planned out before the big day. So hopefully it is clean and pressed and doesn’t have lots of distracting features. In your first big speech, you want the focus to be on you and your words.
However, it’s not too late to make last minute adjustments. Make sure you are comfortable when you put your outfit on. Tight collars, ties or belts may look smart and official, but if they’re going to be uncomfortable and put you off you should probably change them.
It isn’t always possible, but if your situation allows it a good strategy is to meet some key people in the audience beforehand.
There may well be influencers, stakeholders or other managers in the audience. Not only will it put you more at ease to talk in front people you know or have already met, but you will start to understand what they want to get from your presentation and the type of questions they might have.
Very little or nothing at all should change about your structure today. You have worked hard to build a speech that you are comfortable with and have practiced and memorised the content already.
It is good practice to go through the speech once on the day but not to over-practice it as words and phrases can start to become abstract and your presentation can become wooden and mechanical.
You’ve worked hard on this, so don’t doubt the time and effort you have put into your structure especially at this stage.
If you are using slides, ensure you are set up and your clicker is ready. Check your presentation for any last-minute spelling or timing errors, but otherwise don’t fall into the temptation of fiddling with things now.
This is where the majority of your focus should be today. It’s very important not to let nerves get the better of you and devalue all of your hard work.
We’ve previously talked about breathing exercises and posture (in part two of these series on public speaking)and you should use these tips today to make sure that you’re feeling calm and focused.
Other useful tips for the final day include
Negative thoughts such as “I’m going to forget my speech” breeds even more anxiety. Try thinking “I’m in new and exciting territory” or “I’m ready for this” to help your mind start to believe it and reflect on the work and preparation that you’ve put in.
It can also be a good idea to think back to previous speeches that you’ve made and the response to those – provided that it was good!
Both during your speech and during any meet and greets with your audience be sure to smile. They will see that you look happy and confident and this will make them relax and be more receptive to you when you get up to speak.
It’s likely that they will also respond back to you with smiles reinforcing to you that they are engaging with your speech and enjoying it.
We’re not saying to jump on the treadmill or lift some weights before your speech, but a brisk walk or some stretches will help your body warm up and relieve tension or shakiness.
Stretch your arms, back and shoulders, shake your hands and walk around.
You should stand up for a short while before you take the stage, so you learn to feel confident in your posture and to ground yourself before you speak.
Lastly, try to enjoy yourself. Look to the positives of this experience and remind yourself that you’re there because people are interested in what you have to say and because the organisers believe that you are the person to do the job well.
Remember the benefits of things going well could be career-changing, and if this is the first speech of many, then this kind of practice is the best training that there is for further speeches or presentations. All great speakers have started learning the basics.
Above all, don’t worry if you still feel nervous, everyone does. It’s natural and normal to.