Today I had the privilege of coaching another accomplished musician and actor who has no difficulty singing to an audience of hundreds, but suffers dreadful anxiety when speaking in public. I put together a quick list of some of my favourite tips and ideas. Although the particular forthcoming presentation is to a small interview panel and involves a mock training session, I hope you may find some of the ideas useful in other speaking contexts.
Here they are:
1. Over-prepare your introduction to give yourself a confident start. Also over-prepare your ending to finish strongly.
2. Plan to arrive early.
3. Water – hydrate well before the presentation, but not too much for obvious reasons. Make sure you have water on hand – you probably won’t need it but it is a great comfort in case your mouth dries up. I prefer water at room temperature, as it is better for your voice. If you do dry up and a sip from the glass of water doesn’t fix it – just stop and collect yourself and, if desperate, bite hard on your tongue, which will generate saliva.
4. If you can, go for a walk just before your session, even if it is just up and down the corridors or around the presentation room.
5. Check the temperature of the room to make sure it will not be too cold and bring suitable coat or the like in case it is. (You don’t want to be shivering when you are nervous.)
6. Check lighting and placement for visibility of your notes.
7. Step up (or over) strongly to the place you are presenting from.
8. Don’t rush to start talking. Step up, pause, smile.
9. Use your experience in singing – ground yourself before you start and from time to time (without obsessing about it – just if you feel your authority or confidence falling): legs shoulder width apart, knees unlocked, weight even, standing up tall but not stiffly.
10. Take it slowly – not speaking each word slowly (just speak at your usual pace), but pausing often and checking your audience for understanding. This also demonstrates your empathy.
11. Accept nerves. Don’t try to fight or control them. Even the most famous and accomplished speakers get nervous.
12. Self talk/visualisation:
(a) Visualise in specifics – a great feeling afterwards, nice feedback from the panel
(b) Say to yourself, “They like me” as you are about to start.
(c) If feeling overwhelmed at any stage, just pause, collect yourself, check your notes, breathe, say to yourself “I can do this”. Don’t worry about the pause – it will seem long to you, but the panel will barely notice. It will seem contemplative or authoritative. Nervous people rush, confident people proceed at their own measured pace.
(d) Try not to think of this as public speaking or a presentation. You are just talking to two people which you do all the time. Having a conversation. Make eye contact as you would in any other conversation.
(e) Paradoxically, though, you can think of it as a performance, which you do often and wonderfully, if that works.
(f) Give yourself permission not to be great. What is the worst that can happen? I remember in final rehearsals our wonderful director said “Better to be strong and wrong at this stage” and we were all suddenly so much better!
13. Going blank – see 12(c) above. It is perfectly ok to pause, collect yourself and check your notes.
14. Feeling like you can’t breathe – hold your breath and your body will take over and force you to breath.
15. Concentrate on doing the job – putting the participants at ease at the start, demonstrating the skills in the training session and making sure they are understanding it, getting them to demonstrate back to you etc. By thinking of it as a job to be done and concentrating on that, you are less likely to concentrate on yourself and your reactions.
16. Generally, don’t apologise or explain why some part of your presentation is not as good as it should be. This just begs the question of why not and saps your confidence by focusing on a negative. Of course it is appropriate to apologise if you accidently speak over someone or can’t recall one of their questions or forgot to answer it.
17. Be your own authentic self. You are an intelligent, kind and empathetic person – the perfect trainer. Don’t try to bluff. If you are asked a question and don’t have an answer, admit that you have not considered that particular issue in detail and, if possible, go on to say “but on general principles I would think that . . .” It is ok not to know everything. Panels, like all audiences, are more impressed by honesty than waffle.
and to which I would add:
No matter how it goes, take it as a wonderful experience – we learn and improve from every experience of speaking in public, and probably learn more from those that don’t go so well. But this one will!