By Mary Jaksch
The idea of speaking in public can be terrifying. Just imagine for a moment that you’re stepping on to a stage and look down at a sea of faces all waiting for you to start. What happens when you imagine that?
Most likely your palms will start to sweat and your pulse rate will shoot up. And that’s just thinking about it! However, there are strategies that can help you to present and perform with confidence and be on top of your game.
When I started out with my first career as a classical flutist, performing on stage was a central part of my work. Over the years the performance training I received as a musician has stood me in good stead. In this post I’ll share with you my best tips on how to overcome nervousness, speak with confidence, and actually enjoy being on stage.
I’ve divided the material into two parts. This post is about the psychological strategies that help you to present with confidence. A companion article on Write to Done shows how to prepare the actual content of a presentation. It’s called How to Prepare Public Presentations that Knock the Socks Off. Read both to get the full juice!
Before we look at the psychological strategies you can employ in order to feel confident and in charge during a public presentation, let’s take a look at what fears you may need to be overcome:
What are your worst fears?
Fear #1: My mind will go blank
Fear #2: People will think I’m stupid
Fear #3: I’ll be so nervous; I’ll start to shake, stutter, stammer, or otherwise be unintelligible.
Fear #4: I’ll make mistakes
Fear #5: Instead of applauding, the audience will respond with anger or ridicule.
As you can see in the list of fears, there are two main categories of fears. One is ‘presentation failure’ – which includes physical or mental problems that mar the presentation. And the other is ‘response failure’ – which is getting the wrong kind of response from your audience.
‘Response failure’ comes down to mistakes in the preparation of the actual content of a presentation. You can read more about how to get it right in my companion article, How to Prepare Public Presentations that Knock the Socks Off
In the following tips I’ll show you how to avoid ‘presentation failure’ in order to feel confident on stage.
How to control you mind-state through NLP strategies
There are some kick-ass Neuro Linguistic Programming techniques that can create a confident mind-state in an instant. (A young guy once came to me in despair because he had failed his driving test five times. During each he was so terrified, he could hardly hold the steering wheel because his body was shaking so much. After I taught him to use the NLP ‘anchor’ technique, he passed the next test without problems. Boy, was he beaming when he told me about it afterward!)
How to use NLP ‘anchoring’ technique
This powerful NLP technique allows you to change your emotional state at will. NLP anchoring is based on the concept of being able to get into the most powerful, most appropriate state for a particular task or event, and then being able to access that state exactly when you need it.
This means that you can access a confident mind-state before you go on stage, as well as during your presentation or performance. The way this techniques works is to create a connection between two different experiences in the brain. For example, if you connect a memory of a successful personal experience with a physical sensation – say, touching forefinger and thumb together, then each time you induce the physical sensation, the emotional feeling-state of the memory will be triggered.
There are four steps to creating a robust ‘anchor’:
- Call to mind an experience when you felt confidence. Make the memory vivid by remembering how you felt, what you saw, what you heard, and what you smelt.
- When your memory is at it’s clearest, activate a physical trigger. This needs to be something that you can do without anyone noticing, for example making a fist, or touching forefinger and thumb together. (Don’t choose something like touching your toe to your ear – it doesn’t look pretty and is difficult to do on stage …)
- Repeat steps one and two with the same or different memories in order to reinforce the anchor.
- Test the anchor. Use the physical trigger and notice how your mind-state changes accordingly
Note: anchors get stronger through use. Start at least two weeks before your presentation and work on strengthening your anchor through practicing steps one and two over and over. You can read more about the NLP anchoring technique here
How to rehearse
Musicians and other performers rehearse their performance over and over in order to perfect it. If you want to lift your game as a public speaker, make sure that you rehearse your speech many times. Here are the phases of rehearsal:
Phase 1: rehearse your speech with a simulated audience. Set out a row of chairs in front of you and borrow teddy bears and dolls, if you can. Otherwise you can also put cushions on the chairs in order to simulate the audience. Practice walking on to the ‘stage’ and face your ‘audience’. (Remember to use the NLP anchoring technique!)
Phase 2: rehearse your speech in front of just one friend or family member. Ask you friend to smile at you while they listen to you, and also time the presentation for you. Again, include walking onto the ‘stage’ and stepping off as part of your presentation. Before you start, take a deep breath and smile at your audience. During your presentation, speak a little more slowly than usual.
Phase 3: invite a small group of staunch friends to listen to your presentation. Follow the guidelines above. Make sure you treat the presentation like a dress rehearsal. Wear the clothes you have chosen for the presentation, and simulate stepping onto the stage.
How to deal with ‘performance nerves’
As the day of your presentation draws closer, you’ll notice a rise in tension. That’s good! It’s the way our mind and body readies for such an occasion. It’s important to explain this to yourself in a way that’s helpful. Whenever you notice the mounting tension say to yourself, ‘Good! I am readying myself’.
On the day of the presentation, the nervous tension will be more pronounced. As the hour of the performance draws closer, you may experience trembling knees, ‘butterflies’ in the stomach, and overall tension. This is the result of increased adrenaline production and a subsequent heightened pulse rate.
An adrenaline boost may feel difficult to cope with, but it’s actually necessary for top performance! Adrenaline helps you to reach beyond your normal capabilities.
Butterflies in yours stomach? Make them fly in formation.
In order to make the butterflies fly in formation, you need to reframe your experience. Instead of telling yourself how nervous you are, say to yourself, ‘I’m gearing up for the presentation.’
How to calm yourself before going on stage
Waiting offstage can wear you down. It’s good to use the time productively by doing some calming breathing exercises.
Exercise 1: Let your arms hand by your side. Now breath in deeply and simultaneously raise your arms until your palms touch above your head. Then turn your hands back to back and slowly bring them down to your side, exhaling slowly at the same time. Repeat until your pulse rate has calmed down.
Exercise 2: Very slowly bring your dominant hand up and lay it gently and kindly upon your heart region. Then breathe softly in and out.
How to shine onstage
As you walk on to the stage, your inner tension will be at it’s strongest. Before you start to speak, take a moment to use your ‘anchor’ in order to activate a confident mindset. Then …
The smile helps you to calm down, and it makes it easy for the audience to connect with you. It’s important to structure your introduction in such a way that it captures your audience’s attention, as well as allow you to calm down. Find out how to structure your presentation here.
Use mindful focus
The most important thing is to get immersed in your presentation, and not to get caught up in thoughts about how you are doing. If you notice a lot of thoughts, return to the present moment by noticing your sensory experiences. For example, notice your feet touching the ground. Remember to speak a little more slowly than usual and draw deep breath in between sentences.
Public speaking doesn’t have to be scary – it can be fun! The secret of success lies in the preparation, and in how you use your mind. As I explain in my companion post How to Prepare Public Presentations that Rocks, there are strategies that set you up for success. They include chunking down your information, using structures that storytellers have used since ancient times, applying a continuous story thread or motif to your presentation, and creating emotional tension and release within your talk. You can read about the strategies here.
Most importantly, through using the psychological strategies above, you can control your mind-state and access your full potential in order to create a memorable and enjoyable presentation.
If you have some more tips, or want to share your experiences, please write a comment. (If you are reading this by email, just click on the headline and you will access the article online. Then scroll down to the comment section).
Read the companion article: How to Prepare Public Presentation that Knocks the Socks Off.