When I talk to audiences about presentation skills, the #1 question I get is how to handle stage fright.
I’ve written about it before but it keeps coming up. And the more I read and listen, the more I learn. So here are my newly expanded Top 10 tips for handling the jitters, nerves, stage fright—whatever you want to call it.
1. Accept It
You should be nervous. If you’ve got something important to say and important people to share it with, naturally your adrenalin will be running high. The trick is to channel that nervousness into positive energy. Convert the fear into excitement.
2. Know your audience
When people discuss their fear of public speaking, they often talk about having to “get up in front of a bunch of strangers.” But if you do your homework, they don’t have to be strangers. If it’s a small group, research them online. If there’s an attendees list, review it. Talk to the organizers, maybe interview a few audience members in advance. If you do all that, they’ll feel less like strangers and more like allies.
3. Know your stuff
The only time I get really nervous is when I’m not feeling fully prepared. So anticipate every possible objection, fill every hole in your logic, know it backward and forward. Practice, practice, practice. Preparation builds confidence and poise.
4. Have a backup plan
Don’t let worries about technology breakdowns weigh you down. When I do a presentation I will typically bring it on my iPad AND my laptop AND on a stick drive (in case my machines don’t work) AND in the cloud (because you never know) AND in Mac and PC format (because why not?). Sometimes in hard copy, too. So have multiple redundant backups and formats on hand and bring every conceivable adaptor known to science.
There is no such thing as too much rehearsal. In fact, presentation expert Nancy Duarte recommends THIRTY (30) hours of rehearsal for a one-hour presentation. I’ve heard some executives worry that the more they rehearse, the more “slick” or “overproduced” they’ll appear. Actually, the opposite is true. The more you practice, the closer and more connected you’ll get to the material. Practice out loud, on your feet, and to yourself over and over and over.
In the moments before you go on stage, separate yourself from others. Dispense with the chit chat and put all distractions—email, voicemail, social media—out of your mind. Take time to get your head in the game.
7. Warm up
You also need to get your body in the game. So warm up, just as you would before a workout. Stretch your muscles—it gets your blood flowing, moves oxygen to the brain and provides an outlet for your energy.
8. Practice your intro
Give your mind something to do by going over your intro one last time in your head. That way you’ll hit the ground running.
Most people don’t breathe enough. Especially when we’re stressed or concentrating—and that’s when we need to breathe the most. So take three, deep, cleansing breaths. That will help center and relax you.
10. Be positive
Some of my best ideas come from audience members. One woman who is a musician said that she tries to manage stage fright by imagining the audience is made up of her friends. It’s sounds simplistic, but it’s an important reminder to put fear aside and think positively. The audience is here to be informed and entertained and you’re just the person to do it.
Put stage fright behind you
Of course, as with anything else, the more practice you have, the better you’ll get at it. So keep speaking, keep learning and keep calm.
(This post expands on something I wrote in my monthly email, which is filled with tips to help you become a more skilled and confident communicator. If it interests you, you might want to consider signing up here.)