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.
Whether you get the butterflies before a presentation or suffer from outright stage fright, here are six tips to get you through the experience.
1. Prepare, prepare, prepare.
The only time I ever get nervous on stage or in front of the camera is when I’m under-prepared. Maybe I don’t know my lines as well as I should or I haven’t had a chance to rehearse properly. So getting your head in the game is the number one cure for stage fright. Know your stuff. Learn it backwards and forwards. Play it over in your head in the shower, at the gym, while you’re doing dishes. Anticipate every possible question or objection and have your answers prepared.
I have seen so many executives squander their precious rehearsal time by fussing over minor script or slide details instead of attending to the important things: getting a feel for the room, working with the technology, understanding the transitions, timing things out, etc. If you don’t think rehearsal is important, check out this cautionary tale from Bret Michaels. It’s always fun until somebody gets smacked in the face by a giant set piece.
3. Warm up your body.
Before going on stage, the simple act of stretching, as you might do before a run or workout, is really helpful to getting your energy up. Stretching loosens the body and gets the blood moving and the oxygen flowing. Working on the biggest muscles first, like the quads, gets the job done faster.
4. Warm up your face.
Don’t forget the muscles in your face and mouth — they need a warm-up, too. Acting has taught me some great vocal exercises for limbering up my lips and tongue and making my diction more precise. My favorite is “Mike Ditka, Dick Butkus” because I drop my Ts too easily sometimes. But any of the old childhood staples will do — “Fuzzy Wuzzy” or “Peter Piper.”
Don’t forget to breathe! Most people don’t breathe enough. Especially when they’re concentrating hard or under stress — which, of course, is exactly when we need oxygen the most. Before a going on, take several long, deep breaths. That will relax and ground you better than anything else.
6. Feel the love.
This last one I learned from an audience member at a presentation I gave. She’s a part-time singer/musician who has this piece of advice: imagine everyone in the audience loves you. It sounds silly on its face, but think about it. The people in your audience want you to succeed. Outside of the occasional miscreant, they didn’t come there to watch you screw up. They’re there to be informed and entertained. They’re pulling for you. They’re not the enemy.
Practice these tips and you’ll be ready to hit the stage with confidence and poise.