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November 26, 2019

How To Overcome Stage Fright

His palms are sweaty, knees deep, mom’s spaghetti. 

Those lyrics may come to mind when you think of being on stage with the spotlight in your face, looking at an infinite sea of black which might actually be 500 people briefly focused on you until they decide to go back to their phones.

What will you do?

You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow, this opportunity…

Ok drama aside, for many the same feeling might arise when you’re presenting a powerpoint to 4 people in your team. 

Welcome to the wonderful world of stage fright. 

Why You Need to Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking

We live in a world where everybody needs to be a creator. 

Whether you’re a car dealership, an accountant, a dentist or a software engineer…you’re going to need to use the wonderful medium of live video, webinars, digital advertising, social media and graphics to sell your story.  

You may hate it, but the future is now, and it requires you to speak up. 

Google has its developers making YouTube channels, dentists are crushing it on Facebook Video (who wouldn’t want to go a funny charismatic dentist?) and closer to reality, B2B businesses are all leveraging LinkedIn, Facebook Ads and free tutorials to educate you on their products.  

Between you and me, I’d much rather watch a video about my industry or newest software offering than read another 40 page white-paper.  

If you want to stand out from the crowd, well, you got to stand up in front of the crowd. 

The good news is that it’s totally doable.

The bad news is most people still won’t do it. Those who embrace this rather than say “Oh I’m camera shy or public speaking gives me anxiety” are the ones who will get on top in today’s dwindling attention spanned world. 

What’s that saying…success is usually right outside your comfort zone?

So are you ready? 

How To Overcome Stage Fright

So how do you overcome your fear of stage fright and public speaking? Quite simply:

  • Memorize Your Slides/Talk and then Improvise 
  • Practice
  • Eye Contact
  • Modulate your Voice
  • Keep it Short
  • Rinse and Repeat. 

It’s really that simple.  No apps, no life hacks, no crazy tricks…just good old fashioned doors closed practice.  Your favorite stand up comedians, Ted speakers and keynotes all pretty much do the same thing. 

Now, let’s go through each one.  And no, imagining your audience naked or in their underwear is a bunch of nonsense. 

1. Memorize and Improvise 

How can a developer at Google fail at a presentation when they know the ins and outs of the tech, while some douchey sales guy can get a massive round of applause? 

That always bugged me, because the tech guy was doing all the hard work yet failing at communicating any of it to clients. The sales guy was selling garbage yet had clients eating out of his hands.  

What was going on? 

No, this wasn’t rocket science. This was the simple fact that the sales people know that reading off slides or going into details on a super dense piece of text was going to be a snooze fest. It doesn’t matter if you had figured out how to crack the speed of light, nobody was going to pay attention or really be focused when social media was a thumb scroll away. 

Memorization is a skill we lack these days thanks to Google letting us keep our brains in the cloud, so rather than try to focus on building those connections we simply assume we can check it on our phones.  As a result, we apply that to everything.

But those who continue to focus on the fundamentals will be at an advantage. When you do need to get up in front of the crowd, the fact that you’ll never have to refer to your notes or or slide will enable you to do what counts…get your message across in an effective way. 

Most people are bad at public speaking not because they’re inherently nervous…but that they’re so focused on reciting their lines they don’t have any charisma to keep the audience interested, regardless of what those lines are.  

Ditto for acting anyone? 

2. Practice

Practice makes perfect sense.  It’s beyond me why nobody does it.  When you actually stand up and practice in front of a mirror or an empty boardroom, it’s not childish or lame.  It’s effective. 

You learn your timings, you understand where you have gaps, you realize you’re still looking too much at the screen, and you find transition points between slides or topics.  

I don’t know when practicing became this amateur thing that most business or corporate folks felt was beneath them, but those in the performing industry know it’s called rehearsal for a reason.  And if we’re all going to be performs in our respective domains in the future, time to get rehearsing right? 

3. Eye Contact

Eye Contact is not something you need to learn from a pickup artist course or be scared of.  It’s just when you’re talking to a group, it helps to give everybody equal attention. If you’re in a large hall or concert, then give each section a bit of attention with a slight preference to the middle. 

When you’re in person a good rule of thumb is to look at someone just long enough to notice the color of their eyes, but regardless, this should be organic.  If you have anxiety or uncontrollable tension then just look over their heads (we’ll assume you’re looking at the person behind us) and it will be fine.  

But connecting with different angles of your audience is like changing camera angles in film editing.  It adds to the variety and keeps the movement flowing, so your audience subtly feels more engaged than just a dead center presentation.  

And as mentioned before, if you don’t memorize your talking points then there’s no point flowing around the stage as you’ve just amplified the fact that you need to keep reverting back to your notes. 

Also Read: Who Enables You To Be Mediocre?

4. Modulate Your Voice

This one takes time, we hear our voice quite differently than everyone else thanks to the vantage point of our ears to our vocal chords and vibration and yada yada.  Point being, there is a reason many of us can’t stand to hear our own voice…because it sounds way different when we hear ourselves talk from the inside versus hearing it out of speakers. 

Now imagine your audience.  Your voice is fine, but if there’s no variation, no characters (e.g. change you voice when you go into a story, or pretend to say “You must be thinking”) then those folks will start to wander.  

Again, it’s never been harder to keep people engaged as the digital platforms continue to hack away at all the tricks, but the easiest way to adjust on the fly is simply play with your voice.  

You may not always have an option to do this, but if you’re talking about a slowdown in the market, try slowing down.  If you’re pretending to be a customer, change your accent or tone. Whatever you need to do, try and mix it up. 

5. Keep It Short

A lot of young engineers and corporate kids think if they are given a 15 minute speech, they need to pack it in with as much detail as possible.  Well, quality over quantity my friend. 

In comedy we say less is more and to cut the fat, but the real truth is when you’re in these workshops or conferences or keynotes, nobody will say “What an amazing presentation but he still had 3 minutes left.”  You’d much rather have a killer 80 minute movie with a banger ending (and leave the audience wanting to watch the behind the scenes on the DVD) than a 120 minute stretched out drama.  

If you’re confident about your software tool, your design strategy or your product updates, you should be more than able to fill in the remaining time left with questions, or extra talking points you may have as a backup.  Or just end on a high note and leave them wanting more! 

6. Rinse and Repeat

I’ve seen 50 year old men tremble and shake when asked to present a talk or do stand up comedy, and I’ve seen 21 year old “life coaches” and sales reps just nail it for a large group of baby boomers.   The digital revolution is changing the ways in which we communicate but the messaging principles stay the same.  

In copyrighting they talk about A.I.D.A. (attention, interest, desire, action) and whether you’re working on a 10 second Instagram ad or a 45 minute keynote, the principles will more or less be the same.  Once you learn the notes (e.g. memorize over one 90 minute session) you can pretty much play the song however you want and remix to your heart’s content. 

After a while you’ll thank your lucky stars that taking an hour a month to nail down your talking points and actually work on them away from Instagram got you years ahead of your peers. 

Conclusion

Stage Fright and Public speaking are totally understandable, but also totally over analyzed.  

The strange thing for me personally was when I started doing stand up comedy, I ended up getting promoted faster at my IT job because those speaking skills translated really well in product demos and client visits. 

If you want to have an edge on your peers and improve yourself for the better, you need to learn to speak to a group and make your voice heard.  Schools don’t teach it but the School of hard knocks require it to graduate (aka Life) so get to it! 

Sanjay Manaktala is a stand up comedian and podcaster who worked at an IT consulting company for ten years and been a stand up comedian for just as long.

Let me know if this helped you or any comments?