Toastmasters - Collected Wisdom

These are summaries of the collected wisdom of contributors to a Toastamsters newsgroup which operated between 1995 and 2008 and ToastmastersPrime, a Google group which commenced in 2008. This is not an official Toastmasters site, but is an edited collection of posts from the newsgroup and the Google group. These groups provide an unofficial means of communicating for an enthusiastic group of Toastmasters from throughout the world.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Nervousness - it is all bad?

When SkyEagle1 suggested never fear giving a bad performance or a good one for that matter. If you live in fear of blowing your speech, you will blow every speech you do, the difference between nervousness and fear was raised by Jacquilynne in the thread Repeating A CTM in December 2003.

Nervousness and fear are different words for a reason. There are lots of reasons why I might feel nervous before a speech - a desire to impress a specific audience, less than complete familiarity with the subject matter, etc. Some of those result from bad things. But some of them, like the desire to impress, are necessary to elevate a speech from the ordinary. If your speech matters so little to you that you aren't at least somewhat nervous about how it's going to go, why are you bothering to give it at all?

Joy tries to channel her nervousness into energy that makes her performance better.
The one time I competed and wasn't at all nervous, my performance was flat. The problem isn't with being nervous, but what you do with the nervousness. You can let it turn to fear that paralyzes you, or you can turn it into energy for a dynamic speech.

For JohnF a little bit of nervousness gets the adrenalin flowing. There are a whole bunch of physiological changes in our bodies as a result that help us perform just that little bit better.
What we want to get away from is the kind of fear that is debilitating, that causes us to freeze up and not perform at all.

Mark knows that when the stakes are higher, I dig deeper and I tend to do better. When I'm not nervous, it's too easy for me to slack off and do a mediocre job.
I need to get out of my comfort zone and put some terror back in my talk.

In April 2000 the thread was Public Speaking and Matt said when I'm giving a presentation or a speech, it goes fine for five or ten minutes, but then I get this scratchy tickle in the back of my throat and I end up in a coughing fit. Drinking water throughout the speech prolongs it a bit, but not long enough. Is there anything I can do to prevent this?

When Sally suggested if it's a problem of "nerves" getting to you, then practicing in a Toastmasters club would be the way to go. Or, perhaps a throat lozenge, if you could pull that off without looking silly.

Matt followed up with this explanation :
it's not really a matter of nerves. I'm completely comfortable speaking in public. I think it just has to do with my throat being dry. A lozenge might work, but it would kind of make it hard to talk. :-)

Jenny said
If it's not nerves, then perhaps it's one (or a combination) of these common speaking troubles: - you're breathing through your mouth, rather than your nose - you're trying to project your voice by "pushing" with your throat, rather than from your diaphragm - you're speaking in too high OR too low a pitch for you, instead of using your natural tone. - you're speaking too fast (you'll have been told this before, if this is the case) - you're holding your face/jaw/throat too tensely (check if your back molars touch when you think your face & jaw are at rest).
All of these will cause you to strain your voice and throat, and it will become more noticeable the longer you speak.

Careful NOT to drink very cold water (eg the ice water that seem to be ubiquitous at speaking functions!), because you'll make your vocal cords too cold to work well. That's why singers and speakers need to "warm up" their voices, after all.

I have found, too, that eating certain foods can cause a "lump" in my throat that causes me to cough or gag. For me, it's milk products, fruit juices and McDonald's milk shakes that seem to coat my throat and make my voice sound "phlegmy". Better to stick with plain, room-temperature water for the hour or two before you're scheduled to speak.

Frank thought it may also be your breathing method, while delivering your presentation. Which means that your are not including your entire breathing passageway. That includes your nose, throat and diaphragm. If you practice holding in your diaphragm and releasing it when your voice rises to deliver your message, your entire passageway will be filled with air. Thus keeping your throat moist.

This is the same technique practiced in martial arts and dance theory.

In May 2003 Eric had some serious issues with speaking. The main issues being my legs shaking and losing my train of thought. The thread was Speaking and looking people in the eyes

Rick advised in anything that you do, you can't fix everything at the same time.

To improve a process, you should hold a post project review. It's the same idea as the evaluation in Toastmasters. At the end of a 9 month project, with half a dozen people, you pick the 3 biggest issues to work on. For myself, I like to take the biggest problem and eliminate it. When it's gone, I find the new biggest problem.

From your description, I would start with nervousness. I might even avoid the eye contact issue by looking between the people instead of at them. (It's a little less obvious than looking above them.) As your comfort level increases, you could pick out friends. People who you are used to talking to and talk to them. Then you could look at the rest of the audience.

The key is practice. I didn't remember standing up in front of the club for the first three speeches I gave at Toastmasters. By #4, I had learned that I was going to survive. It's a matter of doing it until you are comfortable.

Toastmasters was suggested as a place to practice. Our club has one member for whom English is a second language. We also have one professional speaker. Everyone else is somewhere between those extremes. However, everyone is there to learn and to help the other learn whether they are ahead or behind us on the learning curve.

Hans felt almost exactly the same way when he started Toastmasters a year ago.

There are many, many suggestions and tips and techniques to resolve the sensations and problems you note. The reason for the large number is simple - every speaker has at least two in their pocket, and no two speakers have the same. (What I'm saying: you need to develop your own tricks and techniques and they must fit your needs, personality and the specific situation).

In my case - I've been in front of audiences for over 15 years presenting in the computer industry. I know my material. I know my audience. I am confident. I would get in front of the audience and present - knees shaking and eyes fleeting wandering to avoid fixed contact. I finally got so tired of it that I joined TM.

So here are some thoughts based on my case (and as we say on newsgroups and chat sessions - YMMV or Your Mileage May Vary):

1) The nervous knees now last about 15 seconds - until I have completed the opening grabber. I rehearse that opener until it's totally automatic. After that, I know things will flow.

2) I worked on the nervous knees situation by consciously trying to move the energy being expended to my vocal cords (and then I worked on keeping an even voice). Being in the non-threatening Toastmaster audience helped practise this.

3) My first 'in front of the podium' speech was nerve-wracking and the knees were worse than ever. At one point I simply stopped and took a drink of water just to let me get a deep breath. That helped.

4) The topic & situation you described is one of the more difficult ones to work. You are presenting yourself, not just your speech, for evaluation. This is different from an Ice Breaker, where everyone is simply evaluating your courage to stand in front of an audience, not the content or style.

A year ago I attended a course with a number of colleagues, peers and friends. We needed to do a similar presentation. The two most successful people in the group, and I (all of whom had made several presentations a week for years) fell apart during the presentation. One, who regularly presented multi-million dollar proposals to CIOs, CFOs and CEOs with complete confidence, started hyper-ventilating and had to cut short.

When we discussed this after we felt it was because our objectives were getting confused. We had a topic and should have presented on that topic's objective ... but our internal objective was to impress or realign the opinion of our peers.

5) Fixing on faces during that kind of speech makes me wonder why they have that expression on their face. My solution is to prepare a smile before looking at one - when I look, they acknowledge and very rarely can resist some sort of smile. I know they are responding to my smile and nothing else, which stops me from second guessing myself.

6) If the eyes make you lose it, concentrate on the pimple on the left side of their nostril. Or try to overlay some second vision. Or imagine them in their underwear or wearing clowns noses. There are many tricks you can play with yourself.

7) When I practise or rehearse, I do the first rehearsal in front of the mirror and the second in front of the TV. If you can learn to keep you concentration through that you should be able to hold it in front of an audience.

8) Do NOT let your nerves or shaky knees or your lost concentration discourage you.

9) If at first you don't succeed, try a different approach. If you do find a minor success, [briefly] analyze to see if there is something you can expand ... but don't over analyze.

In February 1996, John's throat tends to close up during public speaking. the thread was Nervous Public Speaker

Peanut suggested having a glass of warm water before you speak and during the speech. Drinking something cold freezes the throat muscles. A glass of warm water, or rather room temperture would relax the throat muscles

Rick D suggested when you feel this happening, take a deep, cleansing breath. Relax and continue.

Pat sings out loud in the car on the way to the meeting. It really helps me. And smile when you get to the lecturn. Someone will smile back, and that can help you to relax.

Joanne suggested the next time you are rehearsing a speech, pay close attention to how you breathe. As a matter of fact, take a deep breath right now. Does your chest stick out and do your shoulders rise? If so, it means that you are not breathing properly. When you do this, your breathing passages become tighter, rather than open up. Your shoulders go up to your neck, causing more tension instead of relaxing you. Too, when you stick out your chest to breathe in more deeply, you are in effect using what oxygen you have available to you in an inefficient manner.

I have been able to transfer some vocal training techniques to assist me with nerves when giving a speech.
First, when rehearsing your speech, take deep breaths, without moving your shoulders. Keep them relaxed. Your diaphragm should expand, allowing you to take in more oxygen. As you're breathing, put your hands on the upper part of your stomach. If, when taking deep breaths, you can feel that area expanding, you're on the right track. As an added bonus, it also goes a long way to getting rid of nerves and relaxing you.

Try this when rehearsing your next speech, and once you become comfortable with this technique, use it while giving a speech. With enough practice, it becomes second nature.

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