Q&A: Top delivery struggles speakers face & how to combat them expertly

Written by

Jeff Davenport

In our recent webinar Top Delivery Struggles Speakers Face we received many thoughtful questions. Here Jeff Davenport, Speaker Coach and Content Developer, answers the top questions received so you can expertly overcome the most common struggles speakers face and inspire your audience to act.

Any tips for overcoming the physical experiences of nervousness (shaky voice, sweating, fast heartbeat, etc.) when public speaking?

Nervousness can be caused by a wide array of factors including past public speaking experiences, who is in the audience, familiarity with the material, what you’ve eaten, and physiological predisposition. Without talking with you, it’s hard to get at exactly what’s going on under the hood of your brain that’s causing all those nervousness “tells.” But with that in mind, here are three things anyone can do to help abate at least some of the nervousness…

1) Know your material really well. This doesn’t mean memorizing it. Memorization can add a whole other level of nervousness (“What if I get that line wrong?! What if I forget my third point?!”). Just know the overall flow and how you’re going to transition from point to point. It’s also helpful to have your first 90 seconds of content memorized cold. Know that part word-for-word. If you nail the first minute and a half, you’ll feel less nervous, more confident, and ready to press on.

2) Know the room. If you’re presenting in an unfamiliar place, go get familiar with it. Walk all over the room. Sit in the chairs of the people who will be listening in person. More than anything, though, stand where you’ll be standing when you present, and run your rehearsal from that place. The more you can cut back on novelty when you present—seeing the space for the first time, presenting from that spot for the first time—the more your brain can focus on what you’re saying rather than where you’re saying it.

3) Eat something. Your stomach will act like it won’t want food, but it needs it. When you get nervous, your digestive system goes into hibernation mode and sends you signals that it doesn’t want food. (That’s what those butterflies in your belly are: signs of a temporarily shut down system.) This can cause low blood sugar which results in shaking, raised heartbeat, and all the other accompanying signs. To combat this, eat something. But don’t eat right before you’re going to present. Eat well in advance. Don’t skip breakfast. Get some food in your body at least an hour before you present (and drink water while you’re at it). This will help level out your sugars and keep your body feeling a bit calmer.

How much does overall self-awareness play a role in becoming an excellent communicator?

The short answer is: a lot. Here’s the longer answer…

When a communicator has a true understanding of both their strengths and weaknesses, they can leverage their strengths and work on their weaknesses. If they have any amount of misunderstanding of either, it can lead to mistakes or disaster.

I was working with someone recently who talked about how nervous they were when they spoke. I asked if the audience could tell. They said they could. I asked how. He didn’t have a good answer. In fact, his audience could NOT tell he was nervous. He had a wrong calibration around what the audience saw—and didn’t see. Because of this, he was starting on the wrong foot with poor self-awareness (“I come across as nervous to audiences.”)

Likewise, someone who thinks they’re dynamic and funny, but aren’t, is in for problems.

What matters most is how audiences read a speaker. Do they read them as nervous, fidgety, arrogant, long-winded, or dry? It doesn’t matter what the speaker thinks about themselves. If that’s how the audience sees the person, that’s what matters. And if the audience reads them as empathetic, engaging, warm, interesting, poised, and dynamic, then it doesn’t matter if the speaker thinks of themselves counter to that. The audience is the judge and jury.

To get the right level of self-awareness, all communicators need to be curious about how they come across. But they don’t need to ask themselves (we’re all bad judges of our strengths and weaknesses), they need to ask their audiences.

Find out what your delivery strengths are. And your weaknesses. Don’t let what you hear puff you up or destroy you. Look at feedback as a gift and take use it as an opportunity to improve and grow.

Can you share tips for when presenting to an international audience? I’m often on the phone with colleagues in other geographies.

Here are four bits of guidance for presenting to an international audience:

1) Over-articulate and enunciate. Make each of your words come across as clearly as possible. Move your lips more than you normally would in an in-person conversation. When you’re talking to people who don’t speak your language natively, they need a bit of help. Enunciation provides that help.

2) Give listeners time to process. Pause often along the way. Give your listeners moments to internalize what they’re hearing so their brains can process the words you’ve said. When you talk fast without breaks, your audience members’ brains must work hard to keep up. Slow down. Pause. Let your content breathe.

3) Be culturally sensitive. Obviously, you want to avoid cultural stereotypes, but also be aware of what cultural references you make that could elude some of your listeners. If basketball isn’t well known, don’t use it as a metaphor. If some film you want to reference wasn’t an international hit, avoid it. If a colloquialism doesn’t easily translate, leave it unsaid.

4) Know the time zones. It may be noon for you, but it probably isn’t for your whole international audience. Some people had to wake up in the middle of the night to join the call. Others are just starting or finishing up their days. When you have people calling in from various time zones, default to shorter calls. It’s hard for someone to pay attention when it’s 2:00 a.m. or even 8:00 p.m. Be sensitive and keep your content quick, efficient, and the length of the presentation short. You can always follow up with information they can process when it’s convenient for them.

What’s the best way to read from a script on your screen?

Sometimes you have to read a script word for word, maybe for legal reasons. But in general reading from a script can hinder connecting with your audience because they’re thinking you’re not really here, so why should they be here?

My advice is to boil your script down to key phrases and ideas. Communicating like this takes discipline and practice, because a lot of times you might have a set, short amount of time to speak and it’s easy to wander off into infinity. But ultimately referring to key points rather than a word for word script will make your connection with the audience more organic.

Place your notes wherever you’re going to look the most throughout your presentation. If it’s a virtual talk, put them just below or to the side of the camera. That spot is the most valuable real estate on your screen, because when you put your notes there it looks like you’re looking right at the audience. You want to be looking into the camera as much as possible.

What advice can you give to English as a Second Language (ESL) speakers to overcome their nervousness whilst delivering presentations?

What I find myself telling non-native English speakers, more than anything, is that you’re doing great! In fact, you’re probably doing much better than you think. But you might be defeating yourself with your own self-doubt. If the audience can understand you and you’re communicating the things you want to be communicating you’re doing fine. Trust yourself a little bit more.

Get feedback from people you trust. If you’re not communicating well enough, they’ll tell you. But most non-native folks we’ve worked with, if they were invited to speak somewhere or a boss asked them to stand up and give a presentation, were chosen for a reason.


For more advice from expert speaker coach Jeff Davenport and answers to the rest of the questions asked, watch the complete “Top Delivery Struggles Speakers Face & How to Combat Them Expertly” webinar on-demand here.

Illustrated by Alexis Macias