Whether it’s “big stage” speaking, i.e., actually giving a speech to a group of people, or “small stage” speaking when you have to lead a meeting, present a departmental update, or give a pitch to a client, most people dread standing up and speaking in front of a group of people. Stage fright, otherwise known as performance anxiety or speech anxiety, occurs for a lot of reasons. Sometimes it stems from a lack of self confidence, other times it’s a lack of preparation or mastery of the subject matter.
Regardless of the reason, people always ask me how they can eliminate stage fright. My response? “Why would you want to?”
In my experience, I’ve found that people who have ZERO speech anxiety before a presentation have usually gotten lazy, sloppy, or cocky. If there are no butterflies in your stomach at all, then it’s possible you don’t care and when you don’t care, you make mistakes. For speakers who care, the anxiety will never be totally gone. It may increase or decrease based on the audience, the topic, or the “stakes” of the presentation, but it will always be there. It’s what keeps you on your toes. However, you certainly do want to control your nerves. Otherwise, you’ll be miserable before and during the presentation, and could lose credibility by appearing unprepared, unprofessional, or lacking in expertise.
8 Tips for Keeping Stage Fright Under Control
1. Be totally prepared. Thoroughly research the topic and write your speaking notes or outline (NOT A SCRIPT!!) well in advance of your presentation. When you lead a meeting, create a detailed agenda, then create a version just for you with more detailed notes on key points you need to make throughout the meeting.
2. Know your audience. The more you know in advance about your audience’s demographics, size, knowledge on the subject, etc., the more you’ll be able to customize your presentation, anticipate questions, and prepare responses for potential resistance. When you tailor your messages, your audience will likely respond more positively to you, thus making you more comfortable.
3. Practice, practice, practice. Then practice again. By practice, I mean present it as if you were in front of your audience. Don’t just read and re-reading your notes. Practice in front of a “live” audience, if possible, and get their feedback. Also, be sure to practice SEVERAL times, not just once.
4. Control your internal critic. Don’t let that little voice in your head tell you you’re going to fail or make a fool out of yourself. If you listen to it, you will. When you hear it start talking, change the thought. Instead of “I’ll make a mistake,” think, “I’ll be so prepared I’m unlikely to make a mistake, but if I do make a mistake, I’ll correct it and move on. Everyone makes mistakes!”
5. Visualize a successful presentation: Close your eyes and start with the beginning of that day. You will get up early, have a good breakfast, and leave for the presentation location in plenty of time. Your directions are going to be good. You’re going to get into the facility and get set up well in advance of your presentation. You will get started on time. People will laugh at all the right places. You’re going to be charming and engaging, etc., etc. You get the picture- and that’s the point- mentally rehearse the presentation as a way to prepare and calm your nerves.
6. Move! Don’t be static during your presentation. Use hand gestures that come naturally. Don’t stand behind a lectern (yes, it’s a lectern, not a podium. A podium is a raised platform you stand on). Move closer to and engage your audience. If you’re a novice speaker, plan movement into your presentation. Once you’ve written your outline, look for opportunities to gesture, move into the audience etc. A great time to move is when you’re telling a personal story. If it happened to you, you know the story; you don’t need to read it! Move out, tell your story, and move back silently when you’re done.
7. Watch what you eat and drink within 24 hours of the presentation: Especially if you have a sensitive stomach. Also, don’t try to “artificially control” your nervousness, i.e., take a sleeping pill the night before or have an extra (or a few extra) glasses of wine. Then you’ll have to drink more coffee to get going in the morning, which will make you more nervous!
8. Meet and greet people before the presentation: If you stand near the door of the room in advance and introduce yourself to people as you come in, you’ll find you’re giving the presentation to people you know, rather than strangers. Then, during the presentation, find the friendliest faces in the audience (be sure to find several around the room, not just one person in the front row) and make eye contact specifically with them before you get started.
Found other remedies for stage fright, have specific symptoms (sweating palms, sweating in general, dry mouth, fidgeting) you’d like to learn to deal with, or have questions that weren’t addressed here? Comment and let me know!