Particularly if they’re due to speak at a wedding or a dinner, a lot of my clients suggest a stiff drink is the way forward, to give them courage to deliver the speech. They’re not serious, they know it’s a bad idea, but they’re longing for some magic potion to take away the fear. I fully sympathise with this but I implore you not to pin your hopes on booze.
Alcohol makes the problem worse. If you’re nervous about making a speech, what exactly is it you’re afraid of? Forgetting what you wanted to say? Doing something silly, such as tripping over the microphone cable? Blurting out something unfortunate you didn’t mean to say? All these become far more likely if you’ve had a drink. Instead of dulling your senses, you need to be keeping all your wits about you.
A recent German study has shown that alcohol impairs performance of public speaking. But I think we all intuitively knew that anyway.
If you were asked to climb the sheer face of a mountain, would you have a drink to calm your nerves? Successfully scaling that height relies on physical and mental skills and techniques, not on numbing your fear. It’s the same with public speaking.
This is good news and here’s why:
Public speaking is scary only if you don’t know what you’re doing. If you stand up in front of 10 or 100 people and you don’t know what you’re going to say, that is objectively scary – so don’t put yourself through that! By preparing and practising thoroughly, you’ll be in control and know exactly what you’re doing, so there will be no reason to feel nervous. Driving a car is scary if you’ve never done it before, which is why people learn how to do it before they set out on the roads alone. Learning the techniques and then practising them soon dispels any fear. And it’s well known that alcohol doesn’t help you to drive better.
To find out how to prepare and deliver a great speech, there’s a lot of information and advice in the Public Speaking Skills section of my website. Put the work in beforehand and, on the day, you’ll be free to enjoy talking to the audience.