“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy” – Jerry Seinfeld
The phone rings, I pick up to hear the familiar and confident voice of a friendly business acquaintance, let’s just call her Liz. We talk briefly about upcoming projects, discuss current events, and then what she says next absolutely floors me! Liz, who is one of the most talented public speakers I know, has terrible stage fright. This is a woman who is articulate, poised, and has a great sense of humour that effortlessly engages her audience, and yet, she revealed how thoroughly she must prepare herself for the task of commanding a room with confidence. Curious as I was amazed, I asked Liz how does she does do it? How does she make it look so easy, and what’s more, continually overcome this fear?
“It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech” – Mark Twain
With a humble chuckle, Liz explains that she has a strict method that gives her some comfort and predictability. Very early in the morning, she is either practicing a speech, pitch, or presentation for an upcoming client or company who she will meet that day. For shorter pitches, Liz does this about 10 – 15 times before leaving the house and continues this process of rehearsing as she drives to the intended meeting. Sure, her hands shake, and she usually opts out of having a cup coffee if someone will see it shaking. She’ll usually skip her second coffee due to a nervous stomach, but every week she defies those persistent anxieties.
“You may not be interested in strategy, but strategy is interested in you.” – Leon Trotsky
The credibility and extensive network that Liz has built, partly because of her effective public speaking, led me to believe that hers was a natural talent that very few possess. However, her candid admission made me realize that a large part of her success is due to her work effort and strategy. It’s quite possible that other great speakers have certain rituals or tactics to lessen their feelings of intimidation in front of an audience. For instance, Liz found a creative approach by removing her eyeglasses. She says this makes her less nervous. It helps blur the numerous faces staring at her so that she doesn’t get caught up in their expressions and can focus on the content, rather than the actual room.
So, what are some of Liz’s behind the scenes tricks you can use to prepare for your next presentation, speech, or big meeting?
1. Accept that you have stage fright, but boldly confront it anyway
2. Practice and prepare in advance (time management is key). Consider recording yourself in an audio or even a video format
3. Use resourceful ways to ease your fright. If you have glasses, perhaps taking them off may ease the intense glare of eyes on you. You may want to find an outfit (albeit professional) that is comfortable. This includes footwear. It’s amazing how the wrong clothing can distract you, or make you uncomfortably warm, itchy, or feel constraining when under pressure
4. Use your surroundings; map out where you will be speaking from. Pick a seat that you can easily get up from to head to the podium. You may want to try walking while talking if the stage permits movement, this will give you time to find a spot to pause and deliberate if there are questions.
5. Plan your pauses, take deep breaths, and never rush through your speech.
6. Try breathing exercises and or meditation techniques starting days before the public speaking to help you relax.
If these tips have been helpful, but you still feel your fear of meetings, job interviews, speeches, or any other public situations are still excessively bothersome please contact me. Together, we can customize a personal strategy to make you a more effective speaker (or meeting chairperson or interviewee) and help you to develop the necessary skills.
If you have HR or career-related matters that you’d like to discuss, please contact me by email, phone, or via direct message on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. I’m also available if you’d like to discuss any of these topics addressed in this article in more detail.
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