Do you ever have to teach a class? Make a presentation? Give an interview? Appear on radio or television?

As an introvert (especially if you are also shy), do you relish such public speaking opportunities? Are you always cool, calm, and collected? Ack, me neither!

If you’re anything like me your mind races with thoughts: How do I look? How am I going to sound? Why did I say yes to this? What if I don’t know the answer? What if nobody comes? When will it all be over?

We all have a choice: We can hole up in our homes where we are safe, and miss out on opportunities. Or, we can brave the outside world — for a little while — and benefit from all it has to offer.

Here are my 6 tips for calming your nerves before a public speaking event: 

  1. Know your subject. Usually if someone has asked me to speak to a group, or participate in a public forum, it’s because I am an expert on some topic in their eyes. They might be wanting to know about getting organized, or about a unique experience I’ve had. Sometimes, ironically, I speak about being introverted! It really helps if it’s a topic you are knowledgeable and passionate about, as described in this article. But, whether it’s a new or old topic, do your research, prepare, and practice. Just like everyone else prepares for an appearance.
  2. Dress comfortably. You want to look nice, sure. But if you don’t speak often, and don’t generally wear 3-inch heels and makeup, this might not be the best time to start. Your personality will shine if you aren’t worried about how you look, and how itchy that new sweater is that you forgot to try on in advance.
  3. Create a mantra and use it. Or use mine. I created this one for myself in college, to combat test anxiety. I call it “The 3 C’s”. Basically, I say this to myself: “I ____________ calmly, carefully, and confidently.” (Where fill in the blank can be take tests, make presentations, answer questions, etc. Whatever fits the situation at hand.) To elaborate, what I do is to breathe deeply between each phrase, and repeat the phrase 3 times, like this:

“I _____________ calmly,” (deep, slow breath in and out) “carefully,” (deep, slow breath in and out) “and confidently.” (deep, slow breath in and out)

“I _____________ calmly,” (deep, slow breath in and out) “carefully,” (deep, slow breath in and out) “and confidently.” (deep, slow breath in and out)

“I _____________ calmly,” (deep, slow breath in and out) “carefully,” (deep, slow breath in and out) “and confidently.” (deep, slow breath in and out)

That’s it. Don’t skip the deep breathing! (That’s probably the most important part.) I do this whenever I start feeling insecure about the upcoming event. I do it on the drive over to the event. Sometimes, if I need to, I excuse myself to the restroom to do it just before I’m “on”.

  1. Remind yourself, “It’s not about me.” They just want to know what your experience was like. Or, they just want to learn something from you. Or, they just want some useful tips and inspiration. Sure, they’re all looking at you, but they’re mostly concerned about themselves. Remind yourself, too, that if the event was advertised, and they knew who you were and still chose to come see you, they probably already like you!
  2. Think of a time when you were super-successful and felt really good about it. Bonus points if it had to do with a previous public appearance. Did you feel confident that time? Did you get a standing ovation? Did someone come up to you right afterward, or later, and tell you how much your comments meant to them? Do you have a photo of the occasion? If so, take it with you. Or, at least remember the occasion, and how it felt, in as much detail as you can summon, when you feel nervous.
  3. Imagine it’s just the two of you. I’ve heard that many of the most famous public speakers in the world are introverts. It sounds counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? Who would want to talk to 20 people, much less 200 or 2000? But when you think about it, when you are in front of an audience, it’s just you and them, right? Think of it as two entities having an intimate conversation, not dozens or hundreds of entities. And this time (for the most part) you’ll have a chance to finish your thoughts without interruption!

Click here for some more tips from Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. I haven’t read them yet because I didn’t want them to influence my post. But I’m such a fan, how can they go wrong?

Do you think my tips will work for you?

How do you calm yourself before a public appearance?

Please share with us in the comments below!

Hazel Thornton is a professional organizer and genealogist based in Albuquerque, New Mexico; creator of The Clutter Flow Chart Collection; and author of Go with the Flow! The Clutter-Clearing Tool Kit for an Organized Life. Visit her online at www.org4life.com.