Speak Like a CEO by Oliver Aust

9 Ways to Calm Your Nerves

Published about 2 months ago • 4 min read

This week: 9 Ways to Calm Your Nerves / Turning Rejection Into a Revolution / How To Speak Fearlessly

9 Ways to Calm Your Nerves

Last weekend I held the most important speech of my life: my groom’s speech.

Was I nervous? You bet.

Not only was everyone waiting for what I had to say. I also had to do it in two languages, it came at the end of a very emotional day without any time to prepare, and I’ve already had a few glasses of wine by that point.

I am not alone in feeling nervous before an important speech or presentation. Research suggests that 85% of people feel anxious when speaking in front of others.

I'm pretty sure the rest are either lying – or so detached from their audience that they are pretty boring speakers.

In fact, our anxiety can be our friend when presenting. It increases alertness and gives us energy. As long as it doesn’t get the better of us.

This week I will share 9 ways to calm your nerves.

Next week I will focus on how you can boost your confidence in high stakes situations like public speaking. These are two sides of the same coin.

#1 Welcome your nervousness

Don’t fight it. Speaking in front of others is an unnatural and unusual situation. It is perfectly normal that your nervous system wants you to be alert.

#2 Reframe your experience

If you want to go a step further, you can reframe your experience: “I am not nervous, I am excited. And that’s a good thing, because the audience wants me to be excited.”

#3 Drink a double espresso before practicing

Tim Ferriss once recounted how he drank plenty of coffee before the prep sessions for his first talk at the SXSW conference. It was a big deal, and he used caffeine to simulate the physiological experience of being on a big stage.

I have used this technique myself and it works surprisingly well. (We all react differently to coffee, so test your tolerance.)

#4 Get active

Physical activity helps calm your nerves. Walk around the block, jump up and down, throw your arms around.

#5 Breathe like a yogi

Nervous speakers breathe shallow from their upper chest which makes them sound rushed and breathless.

Before you start, take deep breaths, but make sure you exhale more than you inhale. That’s because you want to get rid of the CO2 in your body which prevents your blood from absorbing more oxygen.

I apply 4-7-8 breathing: breathe in for 4, hold for 7, and exhale for 8 seconds to calm your nervous system.

#6 Get out of your head

When we are nervous, we worry about what may happen, which in turn makes us even more nervous. We can break this cycle by shifting our focus from ourselves to the audience.

This question is a great starting point: What do I want the audience to know, feel and do?

#7 Sing a song

This not only warms up your voice but also boosts your mood and energy levels.

#8 Use a structure

I get nervous when my talk is too complicated and I may forget parts of it.

That’s why I always use an easy-to-remember structure, like the ones I presented in this post. For my groom’s speech, I used the My Story – Our Story – The Future structure.

#9 Aim for connection, not perfection

As Matt Abrahams, author of Speaking Up Without Freaking Out (see below) pointed out, public speaking is not a performance but a conversation. Therefore, there is no one right way to speak.

In my groom’s speech, I actually forgot one small part. No one noticed, because no one knew my script.

Having coached hundreds of high-profile speakers, I have yet to encounter anyone for whom none of these nine strategies were effective.

Test them and find a few that work for you, and turn adrenaline into authority.


Turning Rejection Into a Revolution

In this week's episode of Speak Like a CEO I speak with the legendary Steve Blank – co-creator of the Lean Startup movement and recognized as one of the "Masters of Innovation" by Harvard Business Review.

Steve's bestselling book "The Four Steps to the Epiphany" distinguished startups that search for business models from existing companies that execute them - launching the modern entrepreneurship movement.

The conversation dives deep into why communication is a force multiplier for founders, unpacking the four steps of an effective communications strategy. Steve also shares wisdom on the importance of getting out of the building to truly understand customers.

On a personal note, Steve opens up about being snubbed when he first proposed the lean startup ideas that went on to revolutionize entrepreneurship. He also gives a glimpse into what it's like delivering a commencement speech to 10,000 people.

Check out Steve Blank’s article on ‘Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Marketing Communications’ here.

Listen on Spotify and Apple:


How To Speak Fearlessly

As mentioned above, I recently revisited "Speaking Up Without Freaking Out: 50 Techniques for Confident Calm and Competent Presenting" by Matt Abrahams.

It is a practical and engaging guide that empowers you to conquer your fear of public speaking and to communicate with confidence. Drawing from his extensive experience as a professor at Stanford, podcaster and communications coach, Abrahams provides a wealth of actionable strategies and techniques to help you master the art of effective communication.

You may ask: Why do I need 50 Techniques? Because we are all individuals, and Matt wants to give you the techniques that work for you.

Check out my podcast episode with Matt Abrahams here – it is one of my favorites!

Have an inspired weekend!



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