Do you ever feel like you want to throw up when you have to speak in front of groups?
I can’t tell you how many people say to me after a keynote, “I don’t know how you do that. I would hate being the one up there in front of all those people!” (I must admit that I prefer it when folks say this after a keynote versus right before but anyway…)
I get it. They say people fear public speaking more than death. Yikes, right?
If I have time, I will ask if they want advice. Most of the time, they say “yes please!” Turns out part of why they mention it is that they have a specific talk coming up. Whether their audience is their church community or a board meeting or a team meeting, it doesn’t really matter. The butterflies are engaging in an elaborate musical that would rival any Broadway play! The bottom line is this: they are all saying in their head, “what if I make a fool of myself?” It’s like a bad song you just can’t get out of your head and it’s super judgemental too.
Most of all, it tramples all over their greatness. (Greatness? What greatness? No one wants to listen to me!)
Can you relate?
So it got me thinking, why don’t I feel nervous? How can I focus on delivering value to the audience rather than the fear of looking foolish? And then I realized that it’s not that I don’t get nervous, it’s that I do things beforehand which prevents me from getting nervous.
So when asked, here’s the advice I offer:
They say practice makes perfect. But I like the expression perfect practice makes perfect. Now, you’ll remember from a recent blog that I don’t espouse actual perfection. What I mean is you need to practice the delivery of your message. If you just plan what you are going to say without actually doing a dry run (or 20), how can you feel confident you’ll be fine?
- Do Well Philosophy
To all you nervous speakers, I’ll share one tidbit that will shock you: Your audience wants you to do well. I will repeat it. Maybe a few times (until the stunned look goes away). We’re so used to thinking of the audience as adversaries. Having to “picture them in naked” (eww…who came up with that weird thought?!) The audience is giving you their precious commodities – time and attention. So they definitely want it to be worth it, they want you to do well so they can gain a result. Everyone wants a win-win, so deliver your message well and their belief in your success will be confirmed.
- Amp Up The Energy
As I’m driving to a keynote or in my hotel room, I’ll listen to motivational music (my personal fav is Applause by Lady Gaga.) Before I’m introduced, I’ll rub my hands together really fast to get my energy up. I will look out into the crowd as they’re filtering in and say over and over again in my head, “I am so grateful to be here. This is such a privilege.” When I’m being introduced I’ll smile, breath deeply and look out into the audience making eye contact with “my people”.
- Focus on Serving
When you think about what you want to say and your message, you forget that you are the minority. What do they want? What are their needs? What is running through their heads? Show up to serve, and they will want to absorb your message and ideas.
- Don’t focus on Prisoners
In every group, you can expect there will be “prisoners”; people who do not have a choice to be there. They don’t want to listen. They don’t agree with what you have to say before you even say a word. They are the minority and they are not your people. This is not why you are there, to convert them. Focus on making eye contact and sharing your message with the vast majority that are open, delighted and curious. You are not the warden and you don’t have to try to unlock their mental prison.
- Practice Self Recognition
After a talk, rather than think of everything you didn’t say or how you could have used a different example or 100 things you can pick apart, first ask yourself, “what worked?” When you build on this in the future, you will continue to improve. Self-recognition is also more motivating. Sure, think about what can be improved, however not without first anchoring yourself to what you did right and will do again.
To perform at your best, your preparation, confidence in what you already know, desire to serve and ability to notice what works (and not just what must be improved) is essential before, during and after a talk. Whether it’s speaking for three people or three thousand people, it’s normal to be nervous. However, it doesn’t need to be your experience.
What other suggestions do you have? What works for you? What other questions do you have? Together, let’s elevate our own and each other’s greatness by resourcefully seeing what has been our roadblock up to now as our gateway to our greatness.