You are on cloud nine. Your boss comes up to you saying, “Congratulations! Your project was a tremendous success. Everyone has been talking about it!”
Then he drops a bombshell: “Now the CEO wants to hear from the horse’s mouth how you did it. We have fixed a date for you to make a presentation in two days’ time. The rest of the company directors will be sitting in too.”
Research has shown that public speaking is the No. 1 fear for many people. Interestingly, death comes second.
To quote what comedian Jerry Seinfeld once said: “If that’s the case, people would rather be in the coffin than giving the eulogy!”
But why is that so?
Among the reasons commonly cited are:
Fear of not getting the audience’s attention when speaking;
A lack of confidence;
Anxiety of not doing it (public speaking) well;
Not enough preparation;
Insufficient topic mastery;
Fear of being criticised;
Not knowing what to say; and
Poor command of the language.
Are you going to let the fear of public speaking deny you the opportunity to be visible and lose the chance of climbing up the corporate ladder?
Acting and emceeing are some of the activities which are part of public speaking.
And when one has to perform or emcee in front of a group of 1,000, will there be stage fright?
Absolutely! It is human nature to experience stage fright, especially when one has to speak in front of a crowd.
Nevertheless, fear or stage fright can be managed and the experience of public speaking can be made pleasant, if not enjoyable.
Undergoing speech and drama training is one good way to acquire the skills to manage stage fright.
In drama training, you are put in situations that encourage you to let go of some inhibitions — which will automatically make you feel less fearful. The training may be tough but it does pay off by giving you techniques you can use in public speaking.
Giving a presentation is like putting on a performance. Here are five tips to overcome stage fright:
1. Warm up
It is always good to “start the engine”. By warming up, you are preparing your body for the big event — your presentation.
When you feel nervous and fearful, your body starts to contract and feel “cold”. So a warm-up is definitely a good antidote.
Just do a simple head rotation, stretch your arms, wriggle your fingers and toes, and take some deep breaths.
Theatre games are very useful activities to keep you warmed up before a presentation.
2. Be positive about the presentation
Believe in yourself. Visualise the success you will get at the end of the presentation.
About an hour before a show, actors spend time alone in a corner of their dressing room, visualising the process of the show and the standing ovation they “see” at the end of it.
This positive energy helps you to prepare mentally for your performance.
3. It’s better to overprepare
Do not just stick to the content that you have already prepared.
Think of possible questions the audience may ask, or have extra stories or jokes up your sleeve in case you are under-scheduled.
Rehearse your speech many times and get someone to observe if you are using the correct body language.
Learn improvisational skills as well. These are particularly useful skills for presenters. Should things go wrong on stage, you can think on your feet for solutions and make things look as smooth as possible so that the audience does not notice any hitches.
4. Get to know some members of the audience beforehand
Have you ever entered a room full of people but you know no one?
In those first moments, you will feel awkward. But after you make some small talk, you will start to feel more at ease.
The principle is similar when you are due to make a speech. Get to know some members of the audience before the actual presentation.
You will feel more at ease during your talk, knowing you have some allies and supporters.
5. Memorise the introduction and conclusion
Sometimes, it is a challenge to memorise scripts. So do not memorise.
How do actors or emcees appear confident speaking on stage? They use keywords to help them deliver their lines — as long as the messages stay the same.
Humans have longer lasting first and last impressions of whom they meet or see. Why not use that to your advantage?
Give the audience an impactful opening and a memorable closing — that will make your presentation impactful in their minds.
Familiarise yourself with the techniques above and you will feel more confident about public speaking. The next step is to give it a go.