There is an old Seinfeld joke that goes something like this: “People rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy.” While almost true, it makes a good point. People are scared to death to talk in front of a group of people. You might be giving a presentation for a corporate sales meeting or party. Maybe you are presenting for your college’s student activities board, or you have to introduce your performers. Nerves may get the best of you. I used to get really bad stage fright. I remember when I was a teenager my hands would shake uncontrollably while preparing for my magic shows, I couldn’t even set up I was shaking so bad! Over the 20+ years of performing for strangers I’ve learned to control it, sometimes ignoring it and sometimes embracing the nerves. I’ve discovered a few ways to help me control my nerves in those high pressure situations. Here are the 4 I use most often to help you not die next time you have to speak to a group.
I have a recurring nightmare, I’m backstage ready to perform to a packed theater and just as they are introducing me I realize that none of my props are set up. I’m forced to go onstage and do 1 hour of magic with no magic. This is the fear of not being prepared. You NEED to be prepared. That means you’ve done your homework, know the material inside and out, practiced and rehearsed until the words and movement become second nature. Lets say you are giving a 5 minute speech on your favorite fruit, oranges. You should know everything about oranges, not just 5 minutes worth of information. Prepare by writing down your speech and rehearse it into a mirror and then camera, making changes to it as you rehearse so the speech sounds more spontaneous rather than like you are reading a prepared speech word for word. Watch the video after every rehearsal, and make changes as you notice bad parts. Do this until you stop cringing at yourself and can honestly say, “Huh that looks/sounds pretty good.” Then do it a few more times.
Make Eye Contact & Smile
This one is huge for me. People are afraid of speaking to an audience, what is an audience made of? Individual people. Would you be so afraid if you were in a room with one other person and you had to talk to them for 5 minutes about oranges? Probably not. So right away when you get on stage make eye contact with someone in the first couple of rows and smile at them, it will relax you. Don’t hold that eye contact for too long, then move to another person on the other side and make eye contact, then to the next. You are never really speaking to a group of people! You are just speaking to one person at a time, do that for the entire time you have to speak for. You will also get compliments for having good stage presence because the audience will feel you are talking to them and not at them.
Talk to Yourself
This next one is more psychological. Your thoughts will race when you are nervous: “what if they don’t like me? Am I prepared? What if I mess up? It will be so much easier if I just run away right now and go live in the woods!” These are all thoughts I’ve had:) You need to control your mind with self talk. If you are rehearsed and prepared then keep telling yourself “I’ve put in the time, I’m happy with my rehearsals, if I do it as good as in rehearsals I won’t suck”. Have confidence in your preparation.
Concentrate on the things you are going to do, NOT on the things that could go wrong. I mountain biked for years and the best tip I got when navigating narrow planks of wood on two wheels is, “don’t look where you don’t want to go”. You will go where you put most of your concentration on. If you think you are going to mess up or do a bad job, then you are more likely to do that. If you are concentrating on the good performance you are going to give, with everything going right, you are more likely to go down that path.
Hold Your Breath
“My heart is beating out of my chest, I have cotton mouth and I’m shaking uncontrollably! I can’t do this!”. Yes you can! I learned a neat trick from a competitive shooter, a tried and true method to control your heart beats and hand shaking. It’s all in the breath. When you are nervous take a normal breath in, and hold it for 5 seconds. Release the breath normally and hold that for 5 seconds, and repeat. This method will physically cause your heart to slow down thus reducing the physical symptoms of being nervous. Controlling your breath is an important part of controlling your body and thoughts. If you do any sort of meditation you already know these techniques.
I hope you found something in here that will help you next time you have to talk to a group of people. Do you have to speak in front of a group regularly? If so let me know any tips you have in the comments below, I would love to hear them!
Oh and please don’t die of stage fright, just breathe!
See you on stage!