It's one of the worst feelings in the world: You step on stage in front of an audience… and you freeze.
Has this ever happened to you? Perhaps you’ve heard about other people freezing, and you’ve avoided public speaking because you don’t want to share their experience.In this month’s column, I will share tips to reduce the likelihood of experiencing stage fright the next time you speak in front of a group of people.
Practice—My first tip seems obvious; however, I’m amazed by the number of people I meet who plan to “wing it” when they talk about the next speech they will be delivering. People romanticize the idea of speaking off the cuff, but the best public speakers practice often.
The more you practice a speech, the more comfortable you will be with your material and you’ll drastically reduce the likelihood of freezing. One of the best ways to practice speaking material is to join a local Toastmasters club. Alternatively, you can use your phone to record yourself giving a speech, or ask a friend or family member to watch and give you constructive feedback.
Have water nearby—Our bodies do weird things when we begin to speak in front of a crowd. An incredibly common body response is that our mouths get dry, mid-speech. When a new speaker notices his/her mouth is dry in the middle of a speech, it may cause that individual to panic or forget what he/she was planning on saying.
You can easily fix this problem by having water nearby. Audiences are used to speakers taking sips of water between sentences, so don’t hesitate to take a drink if you experience this dry mouth body response. An added benefit of sipping water is that it gives you a moment to think about what you were planning to say if you lose your place in the speech.
Beware of holding a single piece of paper—In the last tip, I mentioned our bodies do odd things when we’re in front of an audience. Another common body response is for our hands to shake. This becomes increasingly noticeable when someone is holding onto a single sheet of paper. Hand shaking causes the paper to flutter and make noise. When the speaker notices it, this often causes their hand to shake even more, which leads to the paper making even more noise.
If you’re using a piece of paper with notes on it during your speech, you have a couple of options to avoid this problem. If there is a podium, set your notes on it so that the paper is not shaking in your hand. If there isn’t a podium, bring along a binder or something sturdy you can hold onto behind your notes. The reason for this is that your hands won’t be able to visibly shake as much if you’re holding onto something that is a bit heavier.
Face the audience in advance—One of my favourite tricks to do when speaking in a new environment is to, at some point, find an opportunity to stand near the front of the room and face the crowd before I take the stage.
The scariest moment of public speaking usually comes when you first face the audience. The feeling of all the eyes in the room on you is a bit daunting, but you can minimize this effect by finding a time to face the audience in advance so that the vantage point doesn’t overwhelm you when you begin speaking.
Use humour (if needed)—If the worst-case scenario comes true and you absolutely freeze, don’t panic. The best thing you can do at this point is make some sort of joke.
A friend and co-worker of mine has a great line she uses: “Wow, this went over a lot better when I practiced this speech in front of my dogs this morning.” Whenever she says this, she causes the audience to laugh and it lightens the mood and takes the pressure off of the rest of the speech.
Remember that everyone understands how difficult public speaking is, and they’re rooting for you to do well.
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This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.