Imagine that you’ve just been asked [by your boss, a committee member at church, or some other person of authority] to give a 20-minute presentation one week from today.
How do you feel? If you’re like many others, you feel uneasy…. nervous… panicked. You’re not focused on the presentation, you simply want to survive the ordeal. If this is how you feel…don’t worry, there are many tools that will enable you to gain control of your nerves and make them work for you.
These will not be old clichéd ideas like ‘picture the audience in their underwear’ or ‘make your butterflies fly in formation’. These are time-tested tools used by Hall of Fame and World Champion speakers.
Speech Survival Tool #1 comes from World Champion speaker Craig Valentine. It is called the 10x factor. It refers to the fact that whatever you are feeling is 10 times worse on the inside than the outside. I can vouch for this factor, both in the early days of my speaking and coaching other speakers.
As a novice speaker, I was plagued by two nervous habits that I was sure were obvious to the audience – a quivering upper lip and a shaking left leg. During my first few presentations, I would make mention of these ‘tics’. When I asked for feedback about my talks, I was told every time that ‘if you hadn’t said anything, I would have never known you were nervous’
Although I am sometimes dense and slow, it didn’t take me long to understand that if I don’t waste time telling the audience how I felt, they wouldn’t think about it either. I was able to focus more attention on the audience.
Speech Survival Tool #2 is to know your material. Why do most people feel so uptight about presenting before an audience? They’re afraid of being embarrassed. Why? Because they may make mistakes, forget part of their speech, or dozens of other horrors they can conjure in their fertile minds.
Why would these mistakes occur? The number one reason is……..
Lack of preparation.
Everyone has at some point walked into a presentation knowing s/he wasn’t ready. This generates feelings of uncertainty, nervousness, or even panic. The result? Mistakes are made, a negative experience is created, and a lost opportunity to impact the lives of your audience.
When you are prepared, know your material and understand the benefits of your talk, you feel more confident, in control of your speech and in command of the stage. You can focus on the audience, and create a meaningful experience for them.
Speech Survival Tool #3 is practice. There are many theories about how and where to practice delivering a talk. None is right or wrong; you’ll have to find the ones that work best for you. The reason you should practice is that you need to know your material so well, that if you are interrupted, or something unexpected occurs, you will stay in control, and keep your focus where it needs to be, on the audience.
Where should you practice? Almost anywhere, but there is one commonly recommended place I try to avoid. That is in your car. I can hear you saying “But Michael, that’s my favorite place. No one can hear me, and in the age of bluetooths and smart phones, other drivers on the highway don’t think I’m the crazy guy talking to himself in the car. I understand this feeling. Don’t worry, there are plenty of places you can effectively practice and rehearse. And I’m sure there are other things you can do to let people know you’re crazy….
The reason I don’t like practicing in the car is because you can’t move around. An important element of practicing involves ‘stage use’, delivering various parts of your speech from different spots on the floor. Also, using gestures to enhance your message are difficult to practice in confined spaces like your car. Any place you can move and rehearse the physical aspects of your talk is a good place to practice.
How much practice is enough? When you are comfortable with the flow of the speech, know your key points and can deliver the first five and final five lines verbatim. It is critical to know your opening because this is where you grab the attention of the audience and orient them to your message; any stumbles in the first minute can hurt your credibility. Your conclusion is crucial because this is where you give the audience their next step and leave them on a high note; delivered smoothly, this will increase the confidence in you that your speech has created.
Speech Survival Tool #4 is last-minute preparation. In those final few minutes before you speak, your nervousness will be at its highest point. There are three tools that can help you burn off some of that nervous energy.
Preparation tool #1 is exercise. I’m not talking about breaking out the spandex and leggings and hitting the gym. There are simple exercises you can do in confined spaces: push ups, jumping jacks, shadowing boxing. Just a couple of minutes of physical exertion right before you speak relieves tension and helps you focus on the task at hand.
Preparation tool #2 is music. Listening to songs that uplift, inspire or fire you up is a great method of channeling your focus and feeling an extra boost of energy. Choose 2 or 3 favorite tunes, and give yourself and your audience an adrenaline boost that will grab them from your first words.
Preparation tool #3 was given to me by my friend and World Champion speaker Darren LaCroix. Ask yourself these four audience-centered questions five minutes before you speak:
– Question 1: What is my intent? What do you want them to Think, Feel or Do when you leave the stage?
– Question 2: Am I present? Are you 100% mentally focused on the present, geared toward you audience and your material?
– Question 3: Will I have fun? How can you make this enjoyable? For the audience and you?
– Question 4: How would I give this presentation if I knew it was my last one ever? What message would you want to leave behind?
Being asked to give a presentation at the last-minute can be nerve-wracking. If you use these four tools, you can take control of your nervous energy, create a message of impact, and deliver your speech in a dynamic style that inspires your audience to take action. With these feelings of confidence, control, and command, you can Stand OUT from the crowd whenever you stand up before an audience.
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