Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Conquering Stage Fright

zBlog Readers: Looking around our offices, I thought it was high time that I share the knowledge of other ZMF consultants with my readers. This year, I am expanding the blog to include their insights and experiences in visual, verbal and nonverbal communication. Starting today and throughout the next several months, you will see their posts interspersed with mine. I'll be responding to your comments as always and look forward to hearing from you soon.
All my Best, Theresa

President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear of public speaking.” So, he didn’t actually say that, but the torment the average person feels in anticipation of standing alone before an audience can be overwhelming. You’ve seen the lists ranking public speaking as our biggest fear, ranking ahead of death. It prompted Jerry Seinfeld to say, that means, the average person at a funeral would rather be in the casket than give the eulogy.

Why do most of us dread getting up in front of an audience? Because we’re afraid we’ll screw up, forget what we were going to say, trip on our high heels stepping up to the podium or leave our fly open. I’ve done all three. We are afraid we will sound funny or look funny – any number of fears. Notice how many derivations of “we” and “our” were in the previous two sentences? There were seven. That’s the problem. Fear is generated by your self-consciousness, which is defined as being “intensely aware of oneself.” Talk about an ego trip. You know what? People don’t care if you’re nervous. It’s not about you.

To be an effective presenter you must get the focus off yourself. Why are people more outgoing and talkative after they’ve had a few drinks? Because their inhibitions are reduced, if not eliminated. Having a few drinks before a speech is distinctly not recommended. You don’t want to be too uninhibited. Following these steps will help get you in the frame of mind to be the best presenter you can be.

  1. PREPARE: If you’re not prepared all the techniques in the world won’t help. Either write out or make a detailed outline of your entire presentation and practice it. Videotape your rehearsal so you can watch how you come across, most of us are mistaken about how we come across.

  2. VOCAL & FACIAL EXERCISES: It is important to loosen up before you perform. You can find a variety of exercises on the Internet, such as exaggerated facial expressions and vowel sounds and recitation of sayings such as, “Sheep shears should be sharp.” Susan Berkley has a helpful two-minute warm-up.

  3. IMAGING: This helps get the focus off you and onto the audience. As you wait to be introduced look at the audience and intently imagine what you want them to DO, not what to think or what to feel, but what to DO. You may want them to give you a standing ovation, or get out their checkbooks or text their colleagues about how important it is for them to have what you are selling. You give yourself a goal to keep in mind, which alleviates your nervousness.

  4. GESTURE: You will have nervous energy. Rather than fidget or play with your wedding ring use that energy in a positive way. This is done by allowing yourself to gesture. It’s very simple. Just keep your hands apart and out of your pockets. Try not to hold onto anything or have your hands folded. You will normally and unconsciously begin to use your hands.

  5. SILENCING: This accomplishes so many things. It is vocal punctuation. It’s a segue from one topic to another. It builds anticipation. It gives you a chance to breathe. When you practice, pause longer than you think you should.

If you follow these steps, the veil of your nervousness will be lifted and the audience will be able to learn what you are there to teach them.

Bill Grimes is a communication professional with more than thirty years of experience, the last eighteen of which have been at ZMF. His expertise as a communication consultant is built upon more than fifteen years as a broadcast journalist. Bill is frequently invited to speak about persuasive communication, media training and media crisis management.

(Photo by Victor Jeg at http://www.flickr.com/photos/28405532@N02/2814951286/; license details there.)


Anonymous said...

Great post. I consider myself a fairly good (and very experienced) public speaker, but no matter how much I prepare my body still betrays me. Upset stomach? Yep. Shaky voice? You bet. Acknowledging that I\'ll be nervous motivates me to be well prepared, and that helps. There is no substitute for practicing a speech. \n\nDeep breaths help slow my heart rate and gets me to focus on the presentation instead of my nerves! I also remind myself that I haven\'t ever actually bombed so I probably won\'t this time either :)

Kristin said...

Great post Bill ... thanks for sharing these tips. Public speaking is certainly feared by many and I love the Seinfeld quote!