Public speaking can be one of the most terrifying activities for many of us. As you step up to engage with your audience, you may feel completely stripped bare and vulnerable. The first and most important thing to note is that we all feel the stress and the rush of adrenaline as we approach the podium or pick up that microphone. You are experiencing performance nerves which are normal for even the most seasoned performer or celebrity.
One of the oldest tricks often mentioned in the past was to imagine that the audience was naked when addressing them. I believe that there are better and more effective ways to start your conversation with the audience, while at the same time creating a sense of calm and control inside your own mind and body.
Embrace the adrenaline.
Now that you know that everyone gets an adrenaline rush before performing, you need to embrace it and use it to your advantage. It’s role is to sharpen the mind and to make muscles faster, so don’t fear the feeling of your body preparing for battle.
If you are backstage, then it is easy to warm up. Use your voice, do a vocal warm-up, shake out your body and move the muscles in your face to free up the tension. The face is just as important as the voice because the audience connect with you by looking at your eyes and mouth.
Stepping onto the stage.
So, you step out on the stage and that wave of paralyzing fear might hit you right there. You can’t turn around and walk out (although if you did it in a funny way, it could be a real ice-breaker with the audience) so what are the first comments that you make to your audience? If you are new to speaking from stage, the best thing to do is to humanize yourself. Your audience will feel compassion towards you and drop the barriers and silent stares. To humanize yourself, explain to your audience that you are not a professional speaker and ask them to understand that you will be making ‘speaker’ mistakes, but that the actual information you are about to share with them is the best information available, as long as they can hold judgement on how you present yourself on stage. You will feel immediate love from the audience because no one wants to be mean to you.
Hit your mark.
An important tool to remember is your ‘mark’. This is the sweet spot in the middle of the stage where everyone can see you and hear you. When you are nervous, you will probably wander around the stage, which can be disconcerting to your audience (even though they won’t understand why they feel like that). It is great to move around the stage to evoke a sense of energy in your speech, but you must remember to return to your mark whenever you are highlighting a key point. For example, you may be telling a funny tale which has a point at the end. Walk around the stage and engage with different parts of your audience, but as you get to the point of the story, return to your mark.
Some speakers see slides as distracting, but if written properly, they can keep your speech on track and are a great safety net if you have a complete melt-down and can’t remember what you were about to say. The key to great slides is to keep them simple and to not show your audience all of the points at once. For example, you might create one slide which has 4 or 5 short points that highlight what you are saying. When you set up the slide you can ask the software to reveal one point at a time, which you control with the click of a mouse. This means that your audience is reading along with you and not considering future points that you haven’t covered yet.
Engage the audience and work less.
After watching many amazing professional speakers, I believe the ultimate tool to achieve a successful speech is to utilize the audience. In the first few minutes when the adrenaline is really pumping and your nerves are still up there, engage with your audience. Ask them pertinent questions. Even comedians use this one when warming up…”So where do you folks all come from?” That question will deliver some interesting answers and you will be able to move the focus from yourself to the audience. Other questions might include “so who has seen me talk before?” Or “who knows my story.” This will allow you to slightly alter what you need to say, so that you don’t bore your audience. If you have a product (and this one works an absolute treat), get your audience to answer questions around your topic area and then give away gifts.
Try to remember that life will go on after you’ve given your presentation. You may feel like you are going to die from the stress but I promise that you won’t. In fact, when you get to the end of your first presentation you will feel a great sense of completion. If you’ve offered your audience great information and value, they will most certainly tell you through applause and feedback after your presentation is over.