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Stage Fright

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It starts like this:

My heart pounds and I can feel the veins in my neck pulsating. The necktie gets tighter and I start to feel like I’m suffocating. I get butterflies in my stomach like I’m having a first date with a girl I really like. The fight-or-flight kicks in and I feel like a speed-freak from the rush of adrenaline, and without being able to spend all of this newfound energy I start getting jittery and talking faster and faster and it feels like a million eyes and ears are all fixed on my every word and what if I screw up and what if I say the wrong thing and what if everyone laughs at the wrong moment? I just want it to be over.

But then it’s done, and everything goes well, and the adrenaline surge turns into a calm buzz and relief washes over me. I feel electric and accomplished. Another presentation is through.

I hated public speaking. I still do, to an extent, but it’s getting easier to do and the dread declines each time I step up to the stage.  Since I have to do it quite a bit for my job, I’ve learned a few tips and tricks that make speaking in public easier. Here are five of my favorites:

Happy thoughts

You don’t have to be confident to appear confident. Even if you think you’re shaking like a tree in a hurricane and speaking a mile a minute, you’re probably not. You can trick your audience into thinking you’re confident by looking confident. Dress well. Smile a lot. Tell (non-awkward) jokes. Project confidence and eventually you will feel confident, as if it happened by accident.

It’s your time. You’re the expert, and for the next 10, 20, 30, or more minutes, your audience is obligated to be there and listen to you. That’s powerful. For the next X minutes, you are the most important person in the room. Keith Richards said it best (I’m paraphrasing): “It’s your time to let the tiger out of the cage.” 

The terror goes away if you let it. The more you speak in public, the better you get at it. There’s no other way to gain the experience without feeling really uncomfortable at first. You have to take the leap and hope you can learn on-the-fly if you’re going to grow as a public speaker. It may be terrifying at first, but eventually the feeling subsides and you’re be able to relax a little.

Relax. Find a way to calm yourself. Take deep breaths between sentences. Tell yourself that it’ll be over before you know it. Find a way to zen-out. Your audience will be able to feel the relaxation flow through you and straight into them. Psyching up before a presentation is as easy as practicing in the mirror (it actually works) and having a ritual during your presentation. Some good advice I was given is to always start out with an introduction and agenda of things you’re going to talk about. If you start out with the same ritual each time, you’ll find yourself much calmer once you get into your rhythm.

There’s always an exit. The most liberating advice I’ve heard on the topic of public speaking came from a very wise person at work. She said that she just tells herself that there’s always an exit, and you always have the option to leave. You’re not physically bound to the podium. If things head south, you can always get out of Dodge and reap the repercussions later.

You may still feel the butterflies rising up and you make still feel like you’re doing a bad job, but you’re not. Every word you say and every minute you spend in front of other people is making you a better public speaker. Remembering these tips has made it easier for me to speak in public, and I hope they help you out too.

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