Make the Butterflies Fly in Formation

The most common problem identified by people wishing to learn the art of Public Speaking is nervousness.

Here are a few tips that may be of assistance.  Nervousness is usually brought about by the fear of failure, or of doing something stupid. While this problem can confront us at any time, when we are speaking and are the centre of attention, the chances are magnified.

Nervousness is something all speakers need to learn how to control.

  • Remember – It’s natural to be nervous. Speaking should give you a “high”. You need the adrenalin rush which nervousness can give you if you are to perform at your best.
  • If you are an inexperienced speaker, try to speak as much as possible from personal experience, about things with which you are familiar or feel strongly about
  • Being familiar with your topic will help you to relax.
  • It is important to know the opening few phrases or sentences of your speech off by heart. This will give you confidence and result in positive feedback from your audience.


Don’t be distracted by noise such as traffic or the clattering of plates. Either wait for it to subside or increase your volume to compensate.


When the Chairman announces you as the next speaker, take a couple of deep breaths, be calm, walk to the dais, look at the audience then pause for a few seconds before commencing. Be sure you have rehearsed your speech well. Familiarity will lessen your fears.


Smile at your audience. The resulting positive feedback will boost your confidence.


Don’t forget, your fears are understood by most of the members of your audience. They will empathise with you. They don’t want you to fail. They are on your side. RELAX…… It will be O.K.

If you are new to public speaking don’t put too much pressure on yourself. You have years to develop your skills level. No one expects you to speak with the skill and authority of Winston Churchill or Martin Luther King.

What if I forget my next sentence, idea or statement? No big deal! Your audience doesn’t know what you were going to say next – KEEP CALM!


It will be a long time before your audience is aware you have a problem. They will merely think you are pausing for effect or to let them catch up. After all, use of pausing is good public speaking. You can use this time to find the appropriate note heading to get you back on track.

If you have lost your way completely, consider repeating the previous point you made or restating the point in a different manner. Alternatively, build on your previous point until the missing one emerges from the dark recesses of your brain. Believe me it will!


In summary, to overcome nervousness you need to:

  • be prepared
  • practise
  • keep calm
  • speak at a steady pace
  • engage your audience
  • know your opening
  • avoid panic if you lose your place
  • and remember, most audiences are friendly and empathetic.

Public speaking can be enjoyable. If you are to be a good speaker you will need to learn to control those nerves as opposed to eliminating them. Act confidently, speak with a firm but pleasant voice and smile. You will be surprised how those butterflies in your stomach will begin to fly in formation!

Reproduced from the Rostrum publication “Tips on Public Speaking and Meeting Procedures. Vol. 1” – a collection of 30 handouts by Ron Johnson.

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