Taking control of out of control stage fright

Your presentation is less than a week away and you are already losing sleep. The disaster keeps playing in your head like a tape on a continual loop. You can imagine it—and even feel it—your shaky knees, sweating palms, clammy skin. When you are introduced, you stand and can almost feel your knees knock together. When you speak, your voice is shaking… Stop! Stage fright is a normal part of giving a presentation but when it gets out of control, you risk sabotaging your entire presentation.

Here are some strategies that will help to calm you down:

·        Minimize the risk. The fear of public speaking is usually caused from a feeling of being evaluated or looking foolish in front of others. We think, “I’m going to sound stupid,” or “I’ll blank out and forget what I want to say!” Minimizing is a way to play a different mind game that blunts the “risk.” For instance, why not block those negative thoughts by replacing them with comments such as, “I only have to speak for five minutes. Five minutes is not going to ruin my career.” “Everyone else in the audience dislikes speaking too, so they are going to want me to succeed.” “Even if I forget my place or make a mistake, people will understand and don’t really care.” “For everyone in the audience, it’s just another day and just another speaker. It’s no big deal.”

·        Focus on why your audience will benefit from your information. Stage fright is all about self—how you look to others, how you are being evaluated. Change your thinking and focus on the audience. Find the message they need to hear. What do you need to tell them? What about your message will help them in some way? Will your presentation educate them about something? Help them avoid a mistake? Teach them how to do something? When you start thinking about how much you are helping them, you will step out of the mental spotlight and focus it on them.

·        Answer the question “Why am I the best person to make this presentation?” Years ago, I was coaching a senior executive on his speaking style. Unfortunately, he was experiencing severe nervous anxiety about making a technical presentation to the senior team. He had a speech impediment and was convinced that this would be the focus of everyone’s attention. It became clear that he was very skilled in his specialty and that he had a message the team really needed to hear, in order to make some key technology decisions. What helped him most was answering several questions: “Don’t these people already speak to you on a regular basis and don’t they already know how you speak?” (Yes) “Do these people really need this information to make these decisions?” (Yes) “Why are you the best person to be helping them?” He felt better immediately and went on to deliver an outstanding presentation, because he kept repeating the answers to those questions in his own head before he spoke.

·        Skip ahead to what you will do after the presentation. Presentations loom in the distance like a terrifying mountain we have to climb. This mental mountain can seem so huge it obliterates everything else in your life. I coached an executive who cancelled all meetings and put all projects on hold when he had a presentation a week away. The hours he wasted worrying and the countless hours of staff time he wasted (to help him prepare), was getting out of hand. Instead of letting time stand still, take a different approach. If your speech is at 1 p.m., think, “What will I be doing tomorrow at this time?” “What fun restaurant should we go to tonight?” “Time marches on and no matter what, life will go on.” (Yes, it can get this bad.)

·        Rehearse in the room you will be speaking in. Often, we visualize ourselves tripping to the stage or shaking so much we feel faint. Practicing in the room, using the audio visual equipment you will actually use the day of the presentation, will help you to form a “mental groove” of success. You will begin to experience how it can feel when it is done well, without all the calamities you were imagining. The night before your speech, before you fall asleep, imagine yourself in the room and let yourself feel the success of a wonderful presentation. Olympic athletes use this technique, why shouldn’t you?

Effective presentation skills are one of the most coveted skills in the new working environment. Presenting your ideas powerfully and effectively demands content knowledge, delivery skills and an awareness of the tools that can take an ordinary presentation and turn it into a powerful platform for delivering meaningful messages that will be around long after the meeting is over. Joan Lloyd’s, How to Present Like a Pro, workshop is excellent for small groups.  We also provide private presentation skills coaching.


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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