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When facing public speaking nerves you might first attempt your talk with a poker face. Whilst a poker face might be useful in a card game, it won’t do much to communicate your ideas in a genuine heartfelt way.

You need to consider your facial expressions to convey your thoughts and emotions. It comes naturally when we are having a conversation, but once in the spotlight for many, it can become awkward, misread or worse still: Left out altogether hence the public speaking Poker Face.

For many new to public speaking, there is a lot to remember. First, you have to create the content and get the words and the message just right, next it’s time to work on the delivery. When those public speaking nerves kick in often it’s the little things are forgotten, like your smile!

There are a few reasons why your face can get forgotten and how you can try to overcome these simple yet common mistakes.

#1 Trying too hard

Yes, there is a lot to remember. The words, the message, that humorous story you want to tell them or the quote you want to get right. No wonder you forget to smile with all that to remember.  Relax, don’t aim for perfection. You are imperfectly perfect the way you are!

People would rather listen to a speaker who appears to be enjoying his or herself than a speaker who appears tense and lacks a smile.

#2 Public speaking nerves can trigger the wrong facial gesture.

I had a habit that would get me into trouble often at school, I really couldn’t help it – it just happened. When the teacher got mad at me, I’d laugh, not because it was funny but as a nervous reaction. This did little to help my cause. If you laugh at an angry teacher – they get real mad!!

In contrast, there are speakers who say, “It is so wonderful to be here,” but they are saying it through clenched teeth (probably clenched buttocks too!) as they are afraid – and it shows.  Ensure your facial gestures, words and movements are congruent.

If you are speaking about being happy, then look happy. Just as important, a sad or poignant moment in your speech needs to have a matching facial expression. It takes practice.  Recording and playback is the best way for you to see if you are sending the right message both verbally and non-verbally.

#3 Not believing in your message.

If you want to earn trust and credibility, it is important to believe in your message.  Non-verbal communication is subtle and if you are delivering a message that you don’t truly believe in, it’s highly likely to show in your face and body language. In a previous job I had, I was required to deliver a message that did not sit comfortably with my own values. I did not believe the content of the message (the decision) was in the best interests of the people I had to give the news too. Despite my efforts to deliver the message in a professional and non-biased way, I felt inauthentic and I’m convinced it showed on my face.  It is very difficult to match your voice and body and send a congruent message when the message doesn’t come from your heart.

Don’t let those public speaking nerves get the best of you! Make sure your words and facial expressions match, be yourself and don’t forget to smile. Leave your poker face for the casino!


About the author

Lisa Evans helps leaders and entrepreneurs to craft compelling business stories and become exceptional speakers. Lisa is a certified speaker coach, TEDx speaker coach, four times author, NLP practitioner, graphic recorder and visual storyteller, and improvisational actor. 

She has coached thousands of leaders across a range of industries, including resources, banking, finance, engineering, retail and sales as well as not-for-profit and community associations. 

If you wish to take advantage of a complimentary session in order to chat about how you can become an exceptional and successful speaker with a stand-out brand, then use this link to book a time to chat.

Here’s how I may help you

Business Storytelling Coaching – together we can get started to create your suite of stories. A minimum of three sessions is recommended 1:1 in person or virtually via Zoom.

Executive Speaker Coaching – if you have an upcoming guest speaking opportunity, funding pitch, conference talk or you want to be an outstanding speaker, we can work together on your technique. You will see the results after one session.

Storytelling for Leaders Interactive Workshops – I can come to you, or we can host a workshop offsite for your team. From half-day to two-days immersive, this customised workshop is an ideal way to kick start your business storytelling strategy and get the whole team telling stories.

Keynote/Guest Speaking at your next conference or event – I have several topics to choose from ranging from a 30-minute talk up to a 90-minute interactive session.