If your hands are shaking before every training session you need to run, or you feel like your heart is about to jump out of your chest whenever you need to say something during a meeting, we have two facts for you: first, you are not an exception and second, there are ways to deal with it. Some people freak out when they must deliver a speech for one thousand listeners, others are stressed out even when they speak in front of several people, but the symptoms are similar – slight (at best!) edginess, faster heartbeat, shallow breathing, dry mouth. It’s no coincidence speakers always have a glass of water at hand. Some may feel impaired, the fear makes it hard to say a single word, or your voice starts to sound strange. Meanwhile, the audience is waiting, staring at you… Nightmare.
It may comfort you that stage-fright is also common among those who are not shy, even among actors, for whom acting is nothing new. It is body’s natural reaction, appearing before or during a public appearance. Even though it’s so unpleasant it does play an important role – it motivates you and makes you concentrate as much as you can. But when the level of stress is too high, instead of motivating – it paralyses you. There’s no way to get rid off stage-fright, but there are ways to deal with it. Take a deep breath and let’s get down to it! You can do it!
Think of it as a task. Focus and decide what you want to say. If it is a presentation you’re about to give, you’ve probably done this part already. If it’s a less official speech, make a plan and write down the most important points. Don’t forget about a summary – it will make listeners remember what you said. Also, think about how you can react to difficult questions – you can say something like this: It would be a little too much digression to answer this question, why don’t you come to discuss this after the meeting. When you know WHAT you want to say, plan HOW you want to say it – this depends on WHO your audience is. What do they expect? You will use a different form when talking to elder people, a group of teenagers or the management board. This may seem obvious but people tend to forget about the right form. If you want the audience to listen to you, adjust your language to the listeners.
You already know what you want to say and to whom, now it’s time to rehearse – in your mind or in front of a mirror. This will make you confident that you know what to do and you know how to do it.
You can ask someone to listen to you – they don’t even need to tell you what they think about your speech, it’s enough that you get familiar with the situation and feel comfortable as a speaker. Such background will help you start smoothly, which is half the battle.
If rehearsing is not enough for you, you can try visualizing. Don’t laugh, it really works! Visualize the entire speech in details, step by step. Imagine the room, the audience, yourself coming to the stage confidently and starting to speak to the audience. Not bad, huh? They are really listening to you! If there’s any trouble, now you have the chance to fix it. You can also visualize different variants, e.g. that somebody asks you a question. Get prepared for various scenarios and don’t let anything surprise you during the speech. And make sure you visualize how you finish, how people congratulate to you, smiling faces, a round of applause, your contentment. Success! You feel relief, it’s all over. Try to feel those emotions. This kind of training will let you get used to what’s coming up, and the whole situation will no longer be so scary.
Shortly before delivering your speech you can use your own body to help yourself. Just as the mind can have an impact on your body, your body can affect your mind. When you smile even though you don’t feel like smiling, after a moment your brain reads the smile as a signal to feel content and you start to relax. Don’t stand straight and stiff, a more relaxed posture will make the audience think you’re calm. Don’t rock back and forth on your heels, or you will make the audience fall asleep. Don’t cross your arms across the chest because the audience will think you’re arrogant. Don’t squeeze your hands together, don’t leave a pen within reach or any other object that you could start playing with. You can gesticulate – this improves intonation, strengthens your message, and you will be understood better. You may also… snort like a horse – it will loosen your face muscles and your voice won’t sound so tense.
Now you’re ready to enter the meeting room.
Don’t think about the presentation, take a few moments to look at others, watch them come in, take their seats, notice what they are wearing. By doing so, you are drawing your attention further from yourself and your fears. If all that is not enough and stage-fright is squeezing your throat, use visualization again – imagine you are in a place you know very well and like. This should help you relax and start speaking smoothly. Find one person – maybe that woman sitting in the second row? – and imagine you are speaking only to that person. If you’re using notes don’t try to hide it, the audience will see that you’re looking at something anyway, just put your notes in front of you.
And if even all that advice does not help you control your stress or if anything goes wrong – just laugh at it. Turn it into a joke. It’s better than pretending everything is OK when all the audience can see it’s otherwise. Being straightforward – with a dash of autoirony – is what helps you win people over and ease tension.
Ready? The floor is yours! We’re all listening:)