Everyone suffers from it in one degree or another. It's called speech anxiety, performance apprehension or, more commonly, stage fright. It's what happens to you when you have to make a speech.
You know the feeling. Your heart may pound so rapidly you think it's going to burst from your chest, you break out in a cold sweat, or you feel a mini hurricane in your stomach. These are just some of the more common reactions we all experience at one time or another before we are about to speak.
Communispond, a nationally known communication training company, surveyed Fortune 500 executives. Eighty percent listed stage fright as their greatest problem in speaking before a group; they put it ahead of "handling hostile interrogation."
The Book of Lists states that people's number one fear is speaking before a group. Listed seventh is death. Does that mean that making presentations is scarier than facing death? Trust me, it's not.
There are three myths many of us have come to believe. The first myth is
presentations must be perfect. Don't you sometimes have that in your mind when you are about to make a presentation? We are only human, we can only strive for perfection. Presentations don't have to be perfect.
The second myth is, you will be able to persuade your entire audience. There are too many diverse opinions out there (which makes life exciting). You can't convince everyone, you can only try to persuade them the best way you know how, and don't worry about it.
The third myth is, the worst will happen. Do you really think the audience will whisk you from the podium and drag you outside to hang you by your
thumbs? Of course not. We have laws to protect us from such activities. The audience wants you to succeed.
Cause and Cures
It's better to be a little nervous before giving a presentation…it gives you energy. The key is to put that energy to work for you by converting it to enthusiasm.
The three major causes of stage fright are: 1. not knowing enough about your audience, 2. not being prepared, and 3. thinking about yourself. The cures are obvious aren't they: The first is to know as much about your audience as possible; second, be prepared with your subject; and third, be yourself while developing rapport with your audience.
Know Your Audience
Did you ever make a presentation to an audience you knew nothing about? How did you feel? You probably didn't know what to emphasize in your presentation, or what to expect from your audience. The first thing you want to do when you are asked to make a presentation is to find out as much as possible about the audience you will be talking to.
Who, what, why, where, when, and how type questions should be asked until they are exhausted. For example: What are the demographics…age,
education level, the number of males and females, etc. Why do they want to hear what you have to say? How do they feel about your topic and about you? What level of knowledge do they have about your topic?
You get the idea. Discover as much as possible about your audience before you prepare what you are going to say, continue to learn who they are even as you step to the podium and during your presentation. When you learn as much as you can about your audience, you'll become more comfortable with them. Rapport will be established. It's easier to speak to friends than strangers, isn't it?
You've been asked to speak on a subject probably because you know more about it than anyone else. You're the professional…the expert. Professionals are always prepared. No actor would ever think about going on stage without being prepared.
How do you become prepared? First you have to thoroughly organize your subject with your audience in mind. Visualize them sitting there, hanging on every work you're saying. Knowing your audience gives you the ability to slant your presentation so they can identify with your message. People hear and understand information that relates to their experiences. You have to hit their responsive chords and help them relate to their life's experiences.
Rehearsal is important in order to be comfortable with your subject and
yourself. When you rehearse, stand and give your presentation out loud to
your imaginary audience. Use a tape recorder so you can play it back and listen to how you will sound to your audience. Better yet, use videotape. You'll be able to see yourself as your audience will see you. Videotape is an excellent tool to help improve your presentation style.
Knowing your subject will give you confidence. You won't have to worry
about what is coming next. You'll be able to use your concentration to focus on your audience.
Thinking about yourself is the third major cause of stage fright. "What
happens if I mess up? What are they going to think of me?" Forget about
yourself and concentrate on the audience you want to persuade and move to action. When you think about the audience you won't be thinking about yourself. You'll be too busy developing and maintaining rapport. Remember, the audience wants you to succeed, don't disappoint them.
Tim W. Hrastar helps lawyers improve their presentation skills. He has personally coached over 1600 professionals on their presentation skills since 1988. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.