If that describes you, then you need to work at reigning in your stage fright. Preparation and practice are essential.
Public Speaking is a Sport
Consider your nerves as a good sign that your body is signaling you’re ready to rock and roll. Stop fighting it and put that energy to work for you.
Public speaking or being interviewed is like playing a sport. An Olympic swimmer about to start a race is also nervous. Have you noticed that he jumps up and down and shakes his hands before stepping on the blocks and diving in? He’s releasing the energy to prepare himself for his public appearance before a worldwide audience.
He’s already taken several practice swims to get a feel for the pool. Maybe he’s also lifted some weights. He’s done deep breathing exercises and visualized himself in the pool swimming to victory. His preparation is meticulous because he knows only milliseconds separate the winner of the Gold from the also-rans.
Practice Like a Swimmer
If you’re speaking at an off-site meeting, arrive at the venue early. Get a feel for the space. Practice walking across the stage to the lectern. On stage, plant your feet firmly about a foot apart. Take a deep breath and envision the audience. Smile and imagine they are smiling back at you.
You have to make a conscious effort to make your energy work for you. Open your talk with a broad gesture because it helps channel your nervous energy. The larger the audience, the broader your gestures need to be. Practice your grabber and your closer until you’re completely comfortable. Get feedback from your presentation coach, your PR advisor or a trusted colleague.
Then get ready to dive into your speech and go for the gold.
End on a High Note
We coach a CEO who speaks at a health care conference every year with 3,000 in attendance. We work with him to practice walking up the stairs to the stage, planting his feet firmly and launching into his opening grabber.
The first time he spoke he got a long, standing ovation at the end. When we asked him how that made him feel, he replied, “I don’t know, I was so relieved after it was over I ran off the stage!”
He forgot to remain on stage and to let the audience acknowledge his great talk. We told him that he not only deserved their accolades but he needed to allow the audience to express their feelings. He doesn’t run away anymore.
On the other hand, you can be almost too relaxed. If you don’t have a game plan there is a major disconnect. It doesn’t inspire confidence when a speaker lopes up to the podium and fusses with his laptop or iPad while the audience fidgets in their seats.
Is the iPad the Speaker’s Best Friend?
The iPad is the speaker’s new best friend – within limits. It can become a crutch and the speaker can rely on his notes too much and forget to make eye contact with the audience.
You can almost hear the groans when a speaker says, “I brought notes but I’m not going to use them. And you can hear me without the microphone, right?”
Starting that way is not a grabber and is offensive to the audience because it doesn’t communicate a professional attitude. You’ll seem unprepared. They came to learn something – how to manage their teams, sell more products, save time, do a better job, make more money, or some such.
You need to strike a balance. Channel your energy into a great presentation with appropriate gestures, eye contact and a compelling grabber and closer. However, the audience won’t appreciate a braggart or take to a speaker who looks like she doesn’t care.
As always, you have to prepare and practice like an Olympic swimmer. Put in the work on your presentation and you’ll end up a winner at the finish line.