You're standing on a stage. Alone. Exposed. You can see the throng of people looking at you expectantly, waiting for you to impart some brilliance. Your palms start to sweat. Your mouth becomes so dry it feels like it's full of sand.
A buzzing starts in your ears. Your heart races. And just as you are about to speak, to begin your talk, your worst fear is realized. Your mind has gone completely blank.
Sounds pretty horrible doesn't it. Has this ever happened to you? Even though I grew up on the stage as an actress and performer, and have always been pretty comfortable there, this has happened to me.
When I first began to do a lot of public speaking in marketing roles in my 20s, I had variations of this experience. My voice would shake. Or my hand holding my notes would shake so much that the audience could see it. I've even had moments where I have been lost for words.
I can still remember it so clearly now, even though it was more than 15 years ago. I would stand on stage, I could even be in mid sentence, and my brain would start to fog up. I would keep talking like on autopilot, but my mind would have completely frozen. Blank. Like there were no words or thoughts in there. A completely terrifying experience.
If you have ever struggled with public speaking, have ever had a bad experience, or just want to find your voice and shine as a speaker, it is possible. There are simple, proven things you can do, that I have learnt through more than 20 years of speaking to audiences from small and intimate to those in the thousands, to help you shine.
Here are ten of my tried and tested tips:
1. It's not about you. Stop worrying about what the audience will think about you. Sure, many people will make assumptions and judgements about you. But mostly, they're not thinking about you. They're thinking about themselves. Keeping this at the forefront of your mind keeps your attention where it needs to be -- on your message and off yourself.
2. You're there to serve. Your only role when you are speaking is to serve your audience. If you do that well, you will have done a good job. I often say at the start of one my talks that if they leave with one new thought or action, then I will feel that I have served them well.
3. Get crystal clear on your message. What are you there to deliver? Think of the three messages that you want to impart. Not 10. Not 50. Three things. Sure you can talk about more than that, but it all needs to tie down to three core messages.
4. Be prepared. One of the worst things you can do is to be unprepared. That doesn't mean you need to rock up with scripted speech by any means. I've only done that once before I realized it's not my style. But you do need have a sense of your talk, your messages and your timing so you're not worrying what on earth you're going to talk about.
5. Be present. When you are on stage, or giving your talk (even if it's just in a meeting room at the office), be there. Don't be thinking about what's on after your session, or what happened before you got there. Be in the room, ground yourself, and give people and yourself the respect of really showing up.
6. Breathe. Just a small thing to remember -- breathe! I see so many people speaking whilst literally holding their breath. Deep belly breathing before you go on will get you centered. And breathing properly throughout will help you keep your pace, let your audience catch up with you, and help you collect your thoughts if you happen to momentarily lose them.
7. Tell stories. People learn best, and are most captivated, through storytelling. What stories can you use in your talk that will help to illustrate the points you are making and keep your listeners engaged throughout it? Using funny stories are great and something I do a lot as humour is a key strength of mine -- just make sure you keep it on this side of appropriate.
8. Connect with your audience. It can be easy to be so nervous and focussed on your content that you forget you are actually talking to a room full of people. You role is to connect! Take them on the journey with you. Pick out a few key people to speak and connect with, make eye contact and stay engaged with them. Once you get a few nods, smiles or even laughs, it will improve your confidence dramatically.
9. Set your intention. Another way to ground yourself is to set a really clear intention for your talk. It could be the message you want to leave them with, the energy you want to bring, or the way you want to feel when you are speaking. Before I go on stage, I usually say a silent prayer of 'please let me be of service and bring the messages that people need to hear today'.
10. Create your toolkit. Another one of my little tips that I swear by, is my speakers calm kit. Every talk I go to, and that's a lot these days as I am speaking with audiences large and small every week, my kit comes with me. I have rescue remedy drops, calm and clear hand cream, some Doterra oils (always Balance and Peppermint) and my speaking materials. Lots of water (still not sparkling) and I love a chai latte before I start when I can (it's a ritual thing).
I hope these small tips can be of service to you in your speaking, no matter how big or small it might be. Show up, be yourself, be clear on your message and I know you will be able to connect, inspire, engage and shine in the way you really want.