My heart was pounding, and my stomach turned upside down. I had been listening to the speaker who went on before me at a business conference. I sat through an agonizing hour listening to a dry topic while trying to keep my nerves under control. Why? A fear of public speaking. I made it through that experience and many like it. Here are a few strategies that I use to not only face that fear, but to accept it (when you accept fear, you take it’s power away).
In the weeks and days before your speech, visualize walking up to the podium, on the stage, or in the boardroom. In your mind’s eye, don’t look at yourself, but visualize what YOU will see (the audience, the room, the carpet). Really put yourself in that space. If you don’t know what the room will look like, ask the meeting planner how many people will be in attendance and what the venue will be like (a breakout room, an auditorium, a conference room). You can even ask if the tables will be set in rounds or classroom style. Getting that visual in your head will help prepare you mentally for what you will encounter, so when you get there, it’s not a surprise.
Next, concentrate on what it would feel like to really nail it. Picture yourself smiling and engaging with your audience. Are there opportunities in your speech for a little humor/fun? Practice the timing and delivery of those moments.
Preparation: I can’t say enough how important this is – practice. My first experience with this was as a 12 year-old performing at a piano recital. I was on a college university stage in front of about 100 people. I wasn’t prepared. I sat down and began to lose it. Instead of stopping I just started banging random keys. It was a disaster. However, guess what I learned? PRACTICE! See post I did on blogging practice: Practice Makes Progress (less than perfect is OK).
My first few public speeches I practiced so much that I almost memorized my entire speech. That’s overkill, however, it did help me to NOT be so nervous. Here’s the key: memorize your introduction and your conclusion. Those can be awkward moments, especially the intro when the audience is sizing you up. People in the audience feel sorry for a nervous speaker (they’ve probably been there). If you have your introduction memorized, you won’t stammer around. You’ll ROCK it! A little humor always lightens the feeling in the room and everyone will relax.
Make a game out of it: As I sat through the speaker ahead me at the business conference mentioned above, worse-case scenarios ran through my head: freezing, puking on stage, etc. So rather than let my nerves take me down, I decided to make a game out of it. I challenged myself to think of the WORST possible thing that could happen to me. At that moment it was either my clothes vanishing, or pooping my pants. Both were so ridiculous that I actually started laughing at myself. I became an observer of my thoughts (rather than owning them). This enabled me to rise above those thoughts.
Fun factor: Even if (especially if) you are speaking on the most boring topic in the world, take a slide or two to have some fun. Maybe it’s completely off topic – that’s OK. Your audience will need a break and humor provides it.
Repetition: The only way to get really good at something and NOT let nerves take over is to do it over and over again. I used to think to myself, “it would be so great if this didn’t make me nervous.” After two years of presenting almost weekly, I still get the normal jitters, but that is OK, not debilitating. I accept it, lean in to it. See post on fear acceptance, Becoming Friends with Fear.
What is your worst-case scenario? Did you get through it? I’d love to hear your experience.