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Does the thought of standing in front of a roomful of your co-workers to give a presentation make your knees tremble? How about giving a speech to a large group of strangers? Feeling some apprehension before giving a speech is natural and healthy. It shows you are concerned about doing well. But, too much can be detrimental. Here's how you can control your nerves and make professional, memorable presentations.

Practice, practice, practice. Being unfamiliar with the speech will increase your nervousness. You should know your material, but it is not necessary to memorize the speech. If you choose to memorize the speech, carry notes to refer to. There is nothing worse than having your mind go blank midway through and having nothing to back you up. Practicing in front of a mirror is ideal to observe your hand gestures, posture, and eye contact. Or rehearse with a friend and take heed in the criticism they offer.

Dress comfortable, but to fit the occasion. A suit is nice, but if everyone else is casually dressed, you will feel uncomfortable and distracted from your speech. Make sure what you have on is clean and wrinkle-free. Check your clothing ahead of time and make any necessary repairs (missing buttons, torn seams, etc). Also, make sure it fits, not too tight or loose. You should look like a professional public speaker no matter what the situation involves.

Be familiar with the place in which you will speak. Arrive early; walk around the speaking area and practice using the microphone and any visual aids. Go through the entire presentation at least twice, trying to picture the now empty space full of people giving you their undivided attention. Think positively about the outcome and the reward you will personally get of a job well done.

Relax. Do whatever makes you feel calm. Deep breathing, meditation, or stretching can be wonderful tension relievers. Or just sit quietly. Lying on your back with arms and legs apart is the best relaxation pose for both mind and body, but only attempt this is you are positive no one will see you and you will not get dirty or wrinkled.

Meet the audience. Greet some of the people as they arrive and introduce yourself as the speaker. It's easier to speak to a group of friends than to a group of strangers. If these are people you already know such as co-workers or friends, make small talk and fill the room with an air of calmness. This will help you stay calm and relaxed, even in a professional setting. Realize that people want you to succeed. Listeners want you to be interesting, stimulating, informative, and entertaining. They don't want you to fail.

Carry note cards with words or phrases that will remind you of the material to follow. You will know which ones to write after practicing and identifying your stumbling points. Never write out the entire speech word for word and read it to the audience. That will show a lack of effort on you part and the audience will most likely be disinterested and not absorb any of the information.

Make eye contact to get your point across. People will respect you if they think you can stare them directly in the eye. Continue this as you look around the room. If you are absolutely terrified to look in someone’s eyes, focus on the middle of their forehead. Even from a small distance it will appear you are looking them in the eye. The old saying of picturing everyone in his or her underwear or birthday suits still goes. But don’t let it distract you from what you are saying.

Speak clearly and at a moderate pace. You want the audience to process the information they just heard before you go on to the next item. Vary your tone of voice; don’t speak in monotone. Emphasize key words and phrases to draw attention to them.

Never apologize for anything. Mentioning your nervousness or apologizing for any problems you think you have with your speech may be calling the audience's attention to something they hadn't noticed. Keep silent and don’t give it another thought. If it is something large, like your presentation board falling over and hitting you in the head, laugh. Laughing will relax both you and the audience and ease the tension in the room. Take a deep breath and continue from there.

Be prepared to answer questions during or after the speech. This is where knowing your material is critical. Do not claim to be an expert in the field if you are not. Never make up an answer; just explain that you do not have that information available currently. If you think you might be rattled by interruptions, kindly ask the spectators to hold their inquires to the end.

Take criticism and praise equally. Criticism takes nerve to give, so more than likely that person wants you to improve in that area. But there is always the chance of it being said for spite--try to observe the intent. Praise is wonderful to receive and makes up for all the time and effort you have given. Do not be overconfident and brag that it was nothing or turn bright red and mumble something unintelligible. A simple thanks and a handshake goes a long way.

The only way to truly master the art of public speaking is to do it regularly. Determine what your goal is and approach it from that direction. Whether you are an advertising agent looking to gain confidence or a nationally touring expert in your field, remember none of us is perfect. We all make mistakes and that’s how we learn.