Nothing impacts a presentation more than your own anxiety. It causes you to forget things you wanted to say. It makes you rush through passages that you wanted to spend time on. It adds a vibrato to your voice that you would rather do without.
Stage fright is the number one concern of most speakers, particularly people who have less experience talking in front of a group.
Yet, anxiety is also a fundamental aspect of every speaker, every actor, every politician and every person who ever presented. Human beings get nervous when we have to talk in front of others. We all suffer from some level of stage fright.
In my workshop I offer lots of physical techniques to help quell those nerves. Some of them have to do with diverting your attention to other things so you won’t think about the anxiety you might be experiencing.
Recently, in a workshop one of the participants was chatting with some of her colleagues before the formal session started and said she gets so nervous she can’t even speak when in front of the room. Her colleague mildly chastised her and said “just don’t think about it. Just ignore it.”
You can’t just ignore a hundred pound weight that has been placed on your shoulders. Instead, consciously acknowledge that you are experiencing stage fright and think about what you can do about it.
Stage fright is best described as fear of impending trouble. We are fearful that the audience will not like what we have to say, fearful that we’ll forget what to say, that they may not like us, not like the subject matter, not like the way we said it, not laugh at our jokes, not empathize with the subject matter, not appreciate us. It’s a long list.
I’ve assembled below a pretty good, tried-and-true list of things to do before and during stage fright. There is one thing in particular I’d like to focus on and one exercise that you will find useful.
The best advice to combat stage fright is to know the opening of your presentation better than you know your own name. I’m not a fan of memorizing a presentation, but I do believe you should intimately know the opening to that presentation. Knowing the opening and being able to recite it, like you can recite the Pledge of Allegiance, will give you incredible confidence, which will translate to less anxiety. That confidence will carry you through the rest of the presentation in fine shape. Rehearse the opening 5 times more often than you rehearse the whole presentation.
Here is a new exercise to help calm your anxiety. At your next rehearsal, start by reciting the numbers 1 to 25, or the Pledge of Allegiance or Mary Had A Little Lamb. Recite something you know so well you don’t have to think about it. Don’t rush through it. Take your time, use hand gestures, make eye contact, smile, pause and then recite it. Pretend you are making a presentation of the alphabet, for example. You’ll be amazed at how confident it makes you feel. Now, segue into your real presentation rehearsal with your new-found bravado.
This exercise will tell your brain that there is no need to worry. You are in command.
Here, then, are the definitive and absolute best additional techniques for dealing with stage fright.
1) Always rehearse in front of other people. Rehearsing by yourself in the shower or in front of a mirror does nothing to help you overcome stage fright.
2) Put a lot of energy into constructing the opening. If possible, start with a story. Just knowing you have a killer opening will give you incredible confidence in the beginning.
3) Fake it. Look like you are enjoying the attention. Smile. Have strong posture. Make good eye contact with everyone in the room. Use hand and arm movements, move around. Pause occasionally.
4) Drink a lot of water before you start to speak.
5) Believe that you are going to knock the ball out of the yard and that the audience will love everything you have to say.
6) Smile as you look at the audience. They’ll smile back and that will relax you.
7) Hold something in your hand. It will help stabilize you.
8) Lean into the conference room table. It will ground you.
9) Become aware of your breathing and focus on it right before you go up and as you settle in.
10) Smile if you sense that anxiety is messing with you. Be strong.
11) Try a run through the night before, just prior to going to bed. You’ll remember the material better.
12) On the day of your presentation, as your audience is filing in, chat with people and get to know them. It will give you friendly faces to look at as you speak. If asked what you’ll be speaking about, recite the opening. It’s good practice.
13) If possible, have a video made of your presentation, or of one of your rehearsals. You’ll learn mountains from that. One thing you’ll learn is that when you are experiencing stage fright, it’s not nearly as evident as it feels.
14) Slow down and enjoy the process of speaking to an audience. Connect with individuals. Have a conversation. Don’t try to rush through just to get it over with.
15) Smile some more. It tells your brain things are OK.
Go forth and present. Did I mention smile?