As of late, I seem to be doing much coaching work for those in pitch competitions or those in speaking competitions. And, I just completed a round of competitions myself. Whether the prize is a check or a trophy, there is an extra caveat on the line for us speakers. When the ante is upped, there is most always additional nervousness.
I agree with Mark Twain when he said that “There are two types of speakers – those that are nervous and those that are liars.” When you care enough to do a good job at anything, nerves come into play. It’s competition composure. Here are some things that I have found that work for me:
1. Get comfortable with your physical space and props: the stage, the microphone, the monitor, your slide clicker, your speaking area, the wavy carpet, the slick hardwood floors. You can get a good feel for this at the dress rehearsal. Or see if you can get some quiet time on that stage prior to the dress rehearsal – go to the space and spend five or ten minutes. Practice your opening line where you will be on that stage. So worth it.
2. Practice at the exact time of day that you will be speaking. This way, you will get acquainted with what your natural energy levels are at that time of day; your vocal strength; your focus. You can evaluate how you feel and what you need to do, if anything, to adjust and energize your body, mind or voice. Being well hydrated (no milk products or alcohol) are best for your voice and a body stretch helps.
3. Visualize doing a rock star job presenting – not only in your mind but when you are practicing or standing on that stage. Get to a quiet place, close your eyes and walk through your presentation as if you are seeing yourself on the stage. The mind can’t tell what is real or imagined and so the “virtual success run” will guide you on the live performance day because your brain will have practiced the performance. Tell yourself – “I’ve got this!”
4. Begin at the point on the stage where you want to start your talk. Don’t start talking before you get to your point on the stage where you will be standing. Take a breath and look at your audience before you start. No rushing. Imagine you are meeting someone for the first time with an easy smile, direct eye contact and the opportunity to exchange information in a meaningful conversation.
5. Know your opening line so you can do it in your sleep. A good start makes a great presentation. Your nervousness will not block your memory or the pre-stage anticipation because you know your opening! Once you start strong, your body will calm down into a more relaxed state.
6. Be aware of what things you do when you get nervous. Some menu options: talking too fast, stepping backwards & forwards on the stage, using fillers like “um” and “ah” and “so”; fiddling with a ring or a pen or your hair; forgetting to look at the audience; shallow breathing. Practice a competition talk in front of a mirror and watch what you do – or have a colleague watch you and comment.
7. Thoughts will lead to feelings that we experience which will lead to actions we will take. The superstar talents (Michael Phelps is one of my favorites) in each industry practice affirmations which pre-program our brains to respond in a certain way. Our brain is already comfortable with success – because you’ve told it this. Examples of affirmations can be: I will speak confidently and calmly. I will have fun with my presentation and the audience. It will be a 10 minute self-guided adrenaline rush! Lead with confidence.
There is no such thing as a perfect presentation – even in the Olympics. The best thing about any presentation is the person and the personality presenting. Your voice brings the presentation to life. So be the best you can be in the moment. Trust me – you’ve got this.