Delivering Your Speech Is More Than the Words
You’re waiting your turn to deliver your presentation when suddenly you realize that your stomach is doing strange things and your mind is rapidly going blank. How do you conquer the jitters? People ask me this question all the time; there is no single answer. You must prepare mentally, physically, and logistically.
Start by understanding that you’ll spend a lot more time preparing than you will be speaking. As a general rule, invest three hours of preparation for a half hour speech, a six to one ratio. When you’ve become a highly experienced speaker, you might be able to cut your preparation time. Until then, don’t skimp, because preparation is critical to success, even for experienced speakers.
Part of your preparation will be to memorize your opening and closing words. Rehearse so you are able to cover your key points from notes, but know your opening and closing by heart so you can count on being able to start and end fluently. This will help ensure that you connect with your audience when you are most nervous.
It may help to remind yourself that your audience will not know how you feel; they will only know how you act.
Arrive at the room where you’ll be speaking as early as possible so you can get comfortable in the environment. If you will be speaking from a stage, go early in the morning when no one is there and make friends with the stage. Then, during your presentation, you can concentrate on your audience, not your environment.
If you are addressing a small meeting, to help cope with anticipation, shake hands and make eye contact with everybody before your presentation begins. For larger meetings, meet and shake hands with people in the front row at least, and some of the people as they are coming in the door. We as speakers are rarely nervous about individuals; we are only nervous when faced with the thought of an entire audience. When you have met the audience of 10 or the front row in a large group, and you have connected with them personally, they become less scary. Also, when you take time to personally connect with the audience, they will be rooting for your success.
In terms of handling physical tension before a speech, understand that it is natural to be nervous. Try this acting technique: Wave your hands in the air, relax your jaw, and shake your head from side to side. Then shake your legs one at a time. Of course this often has to be done in the privacy of the bathroom, but this technique will help physically shake out the tension in your body.
Don’t get stuck sitting down too much right before speaking. If you are going to speak an hour into the agenda, sit in the back of the room so that for some portion of that hour you can stand up. It is difficult to immediately jump into your presentation and be dynamic when you have been sitting down and relaxed. Robin Williams was well known for doing jumping jacks before going on stage to raise his energy level.
Sitting in the back of the room allows you easy access to the bathroom before a speech. One of the greatest orators of the twentieth century, Winston Churchill thought that speakers should visit the bathroom before giving a speech. If you are going to be nervous, you are likely going to have to run frequently to the bathroom. If you’re at the front of the room, you may not be able to do that.
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Executive Speech Coach and Hall of Fame Keynote Speaker Patricia Fripp works with individuals and companies who realize that powerful, persuasive presentation skills give them a competitive edge.