October 13, 2019

Public Speaking Nerves: How One High-Profile Speaker Copes


Public Speaking Fear , Seen|Read|Heard , Tips , Public Speaking

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaking at the Women's March in New York, January 2019. Photo by Dimitri Rodriquez.

"The upside to being held to a higher standard is you get used to having to perform very well."

– Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

She seems fearless. She addresses large crowds all the time. But like many of us, U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez feels nervous about public speaking.

On Friday, Ocasio-Cortez addressed The C40 Mayors Summit in Copenhagen. In the hours before that speech, she used her Instagram account to give insight into her nerves and how she handles them.

Here’s what we saw that Instagram story that you can learn from and use:

The right words matter and writing helps you find them—and gives you confidence

AOC posted that she'd spent most of the day writing in her room. The night before, she’d written and scrapped another speech. As we see with most of the people we coach, her best speech didn't happen in her first draft.

A screen shot from AOC's Instagram story.

Audience size can increase or lessen nerves

AOC posted that she has a "sweet spot for audience size & feedback." We hear that from other speakers, too. Some find large audiences comforting and small groups unnerving. Ocasio-Cortez says she prefers a group of 200 because she can gauge the reactions in the room, rather than an audience of 1,000 people whose faces she can barely see.

While you may not be able to determine the audience size, at least you can prepare yourself mentally for what you have to face. By knowing your comfort zone, you can do extra prep when you're required to speak outside of it.

Don't assume that feeling nervous means you won't be good

As AOC proves, even people who are accustomed to being in the spotlight can feel nervous. Sometimes it is the size of the audience. Other times, nerves may kick in because the message is difficult or the stakes are high. Some speakers, no matter how much they present, always feel nervous.

You can get through those nerves and be great. You can be nervous, and the audience will never know. And as AOC wrote in her Instagram story, when the pressure is on and the nerves are rattled, a positive attitude can help: "Events like these never stop being anxiety inducing because the stakes are so high…. Despite that other politicians get away with saying truly crazy stuff, I don’t get anywhere near that kind of pass….But the upside to being held to a higher standard is you get used to having to perform very well." 

For more on dealing with nerves, you might find this and this helpful. 

Below, an excerpt from AOC's Copenhagen speech:

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