Susan Weinschenk


How to Calm Nerves on the Big Day (and Nail Your First and Last 30 Seconds)

Key Takeaways

On nerves:

I think that a little bit of that adrenaline and nerves is a good thing. I think some of the best talks I've given have actually been when I'm a little more nervous than others. But, actually because I was so hyped up, I actually had a lot of energy and I actually said some things that became, later on, definitely the buzz phrases that I put in all my talks.

I do to calm myself down so I don‟t end up going off script – because I do that rarely. First of all, breathing. I do a lot of yoga and mindfulness meditation in my life and so I have really – and singing – and so I've really learned about the importance of what's called the deep, belly breathing.

Maybe 5 or 10 minutes before I go on, I'll go out in some hallway somewhere where no one can see me and I'll do what's called the large gestures. You put your arms out really wide and you do a really wide stance and the research shows us that when you do large gestures like that it actually changes your neurochemistry.

You emit different brain chemicals and you become more confident because of the brain chemicals. When you're more confident that will calm you down. I do a combination of the large gestures maybe about five minutes beforehand. I do that for a full minute. If anybody sees me, I'm out in the hallway like this, but I don't care. I‟m going to deliver a great presentation.

On passion and introversion:

One of the most important things about being a good speaker is that you are passionate about your topic. You can be an introvert and be passionate about what you're talking about. I think actually – sometimes I think being an introvert maybe is an advantage because you're focusing so much on what you're going to talk about and how to get the message across.

If you're passionate about what you're talking about that's really all you need. That would be the one thing I would say. If you're not passionate about what you're talking about then figure out a way – figure out something about it that makes you passionate because without the passion you really won't be able to give a good presentation.

Mistakes people make:

Okay, so some of the biggest mistakes I see people make are in their body language. Using poor body language and therefore communicating some things you may not mean to communicate. I think the other mistake I see people make in this area of effective delivery is the pacing, the nervous pacing or the nervous tick. I've seen some just bizarre things that people do.

I really think the best way to get over those, besides the things we talked about like the breathing, have someone video your presentation. I tell you, you watch that and you realize what are the things that you do, the next time you're on stage, you all of a sudden you go, “Oh my God, I'm doing it. I'm doing it again.”

You have to – it's painful sometimes to watch yourself. I've done a lot of mentoring and coaching and the first thing we do is we video tape and people are like, “No, no, no, I don't want to watch it. I don‟t want to watch it.” It's like, “I know, but you have to.” It always improves them instantly. Just even sometimes watching one time they never do that weird thing again.

Confidence is key:

The best thing you can do is be confident because confidence is everything. People follow the leader. The psychology is that if there's a leader, we follow them. This is just a tendency we all have. If you can establish yourself as a strong leader, everything else goes much better. A lot of your flaws will be overlooked because you're the leader. The easiest way to become the leader is to talk first.

On strong beginnings and endings:

I actually tell people, “The most important parts to memorize and rehearse are the opening 30 seconds and the closing 30 seconds.” I hope you're not winging the whole thing. I hope that you have mapped this all out and I hope that you've practiced your entire talk several times, but whether you've done that or not, you better have the beginning and the ending totally memorized because that's when you have all these nerves.

You get up there and you have all these nerves, so you want to just open your mouth and the words come out because you've practiced it so any times they're just – you just say the first word and the rest just tumble out. If you can get through those first 30 seconds a couple things happen. First of all, you've made a great first impression and we know that the first impression is everything.

People are deciding what they think about you, what they think about the presentation based on not even the first 30 seconds. We're talking about the first three to four seconds, but if you can really nail that beginning, then you'll have the audience with you. Then the other thing that it does is if you nail that beginning, the adrenaline starts to dissipate.

You can calm down a little bit now. You can go onto the rest of the presentation and talk about the things you know. You'll be more confident because you nailed that beginning. Then the ending, really, really critical because that's your call to action. That's your summing up. I talk in the book about how to get applause every time.

You just have to wait. You don't run off the stage. You stand there and you smile and then they applaud. Then what you have to do – you're going to feel so silly the first time you do this. You have to nod. Think about being famous, accepting the gracious applause.

 What does it mean to speak like a pro?

My definition of speaking like a pro would encompass two things. One is that you are really passionate and confident, the things we've been talking about and then the other thing is that you inspire people, that they come out of the presentation, no matter how mundane it is, no matter how technical it is.

Maybe you're teaching tips of using Excel spreadsheet. It doesn't have to be an inspiring topic, but whatever it is, they come out and they say, “Oh, wow. I didn't know that.” That's – if you can make people have that reaction, then I think you're really a pro.

Top Tips:

Where to find Susan:

Want all the interview videos, mp3s and transcripts?

Click here to purchase the entire bundle!

Back to the Speak Like A Pro Dashboard »