Do you hate public speaking? Does the thought of getting on stage in front of a large crowd make you seriously uncomfortable? If so, then you’re not alone. Experts say that 90 percent of us suffer from fear of public speeches and performance. Many celebrities such as Adele, Amanda Seyfried, and Thom Yorke have been open about their struggles with stage freight.
Last week, I was on a panel at a fairly large startup conference (500-600 people) in San Francisco. I was called on stage, sat down with my other panelists and without warning panic kicked in when the microphone was passed to me to give my intro. All I had to do was say my name and job title. Instead I stumbled trying to get words out of my mouth. My peripheral vision closed in and the room seemed to shrink in as anxiety and panic kicked in.
But then I took a deep breathe… I apologized and told the crowd that I was a little nervous and then I proceeded to finished my intro, made a quip that made the audience laugh and then passed the microphone to my fellow panelist. Then when the questions of substance came around, I had already worked out the willies and I could answer effectively and with confidence.
After the talk, people from the audience came up to thank me for my insights and I had an inbox full of requests from folks wanting to meet up for coffee. Although the talk had a rough beginning, I was able to finish strongly. I felt mortified in the beginning of the talk, but at the end of the day no one seemed to care about my opening flub.
Over the last couple of years I’ve spoken at dozens of startup events and conferences all over the world. Some of these events were small, others large – None of them were easy for me. While the thought of public speaking still gives me the creeps, the following advice have helped me make it a manageable part of my career. Hopefully these tips will help you too make it through on stage.
- You Got This!
Understand that most of the people in the audience would be scared to death to give a speech too, and are glad that it is you up there and not them! It’s important to remind yourself that you were invited to give a talk for a reason. You’re awesome! Get up there on that stage and be confident that you know your stuff.
- Know Your Stuff!
When you know the subject matter like the back of your hand, you can go off script and still deliver value to the audience. It also let’s you be you. If you know your material enough, you don’t need to memorize a speech. A memorized speech can sound robotic or like watching a bad actor. Nobody wants that. Know the sections of your talk that you want to cover and then just be yourself and let your personality shine.
In the nose, out the mouth. Once more. Let your breathing slow down your heart rate. Go on, take another breath. Feel better? Good… Now do this the next time you feel yourself getting worked up on stage.
- Talk Only To A Few.
A large audience can be overwhelming. To better handle the what seems like a sea of people, scan the crowd but pick 3 people in the whole room to be your focal points. As you talk, slowly move your conversation back and forth between these people. Look them in the eyes and pretend that you’re talking only to them. Forget that anyone else is in the room. No one else in the room will notice the technique, but you’ll be at ease only needing to focus on a few people.
- You’re Your Worst Critic.
Don’t be so hard on yourself. If you make a mistake, don’t beat yourself up. Let it go and move on. Mistakes will happen, but they’re usually much smaller then you think they are.
- Laugh It Off.
If you screw up, make light of the situation. Poke fun at yourself. Make the crowd laugh with you, not at you. If you can laugh with your audience, you both will be more relaxed and at ease. Smile and enjoy yourself.
- Practice, Practice, Practice.
If you’re new to speaking publicly or even if you’re a veteran, take time before the day of the talk to do dry runs in your bedroom. Give the talk to your dog, your significant other, to you in the mirror, or video tape yourself and play it back. You’ll do better with even a little practice. If the lights of the stage or the audience looking back at you starts to distract, if you’ve practiced then you’re more likely to move forward on auto-pilot.
- It Really Doesn’t Matter.
Unless you’re given a ‘State of the Union’ address from the Oval Office, then at the end of the day it probably doesn’t matter as much as you think that it might. The world isn’t going to fall apart if you bomb. Most likely, people won’t remember your blunder a couple hours later. It’s just a talk. There are more important things in life to worry about.
Remember… Startups are all about failing fast. Learn from your mistakes and rise stronger.
You’ve got this!