The average person ranks the fear of public speaking higher than the fear of death. Jerry Seinfeld once related it to a funeral. He said,“In other words, at a funeral, the average person would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy.”
Even the most intelligent people can be uncomfortable in front of an audience. Speech anxiety is real, and can derail your career. Let’s look at some exercises and tips to crush what we in the acting world call “stage fright”.
Prepare, prepare, prepare – There are several steps to be taken during the preparation stage. The more time you spend on preparation, the better your chance of success.
Know your material. When you're confident with your content, it's evident in your delivery. However, there's no need to write out your entire speech. Instead, write specific bullet points of the subject matter you want to deliver. The rationale behind this theory is that many people who memorize material can be thrown of kilter if they forget a line. If you aren't comfortable with ad-libbing, bullet point ideas may be the best option.
- Know your audience. Who are you presenting to and why? What do they need to take away from your presentation? How knowledgeable are they on your subject matter?
- Use a strong Attention Grabber. You have 30 seconds to grab the attention of your audience. Come out strong. The ultimate goal of any presentation is to move the audience to action in some way, shape, or form.
- Use stories. How are you going to take your information and convey it to the audience so it sticks? People forget facts and figures and, quite frankly, statistical information can be quite boring after a while. Find a story or experience you can use to relate to your topic.
- Prepare for questions. There's nothing worse than being asked a question that you have no idea how to answer. Many of us get the "deer in the headlights" look on our face. That look can wreak havoc on your credibility. It’s okay if you don’t have all the answers, you’re not Google! If you don't have an answer, just say so. Also, allow yourself time to think. You don't have to fill up every second of any speech with words. Silence can be your ally.
Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse – Do not skip this step. Rehearsing entails more than just sitting at your desk, trying to memorizing your speech, or endlessly tweaking your visuals.
- Have a Dress Rehearsal. You can learn more about the full Rehearsal Process here, but for now let me advocate for the final step: Dress Rehearsal. Make a point during this final part of your Rehearsal Process to dress in the attire you're going to wear for your presentation. Be sure you rehearse in the shoes you plan on wearing, as well.
- Video tape yourself. For many people, this is as scary as public speaking. They don't like to see or hear themselves. If you're not comfortable watching yourself perform, how do you think the audience will feel? During your playback, pay attention to your body language and hand gestures. Are your hand gestures reinforcing, or distracting from, the message? Listen to the tone of your voice, and the rate of speed at which you speak. Tip: when rehearsing, slow down your delivery speed. Most people when they're nervous will speak at a faster rate. If you practice at a slower speed, and really annunciate your words, this will help your nervous energy on stage.
Exercise – It's always a good to “warm up” before you participate in any physical activity. Public speaking is no different.
- Relax. Close your eyes and take in a deep breath on a 10 count. Release it slowly on a 10 count. When we become nervous and stressed, we lose oxygen to our brain. Core Breathing pumps oxygen to the brain, increasing endorphins — which are natural stress reducers. The beauty of Core Breathing is that you can do it anywhere, and anytime.
- Neck and shoulder rolls. Release tension from your upper body with some neck and shoulder rolls prior to your speech. Many times after my neck and shoulder rolls I add large circles both forward and backward with my arms.
- Vocal Chords. Since these muscles will be majorly utilized in public speaking, don’t forget to warm them up. Go up and down the scale with a few "lalalalalalalas". Making the rolling “r” sound will warm up the tongue and “brrrr” will warm up the lips. Drinking warm water with lemon prior to, and during, your speech (if possible) will keep your vocal chords relaxed.
It's natural to be nervous before a performance. Being nervous is a form of adrenaline. It keeps you on your toes and alert. Remember, your audience usually can't see your nervous energy.
Back in high school, I had the lead part in the play “Butterflies Are Free”. There was one scene, one line, which I missed during more than one rehearsal. I was getting very frustrated, to say the least, and I recall a little bit of a break down. “I don’t know what's wrong with me. I keep missing that line,” I said to my drama coach with tears in my eyes. He told me, “You're the only one who knows what the next line is supposed to be. The audience has no clue. If you remain calm, cool, and collected, they won’t see a mistake.”
You’re prepared, rehearsed, and warmed up. Now visualize your success. The self-fulfilling prophecy tells us if you believe you will succeed, you will. Break a leg!