Barbara Schumacher, DTM
We get frightened and feel a little adrenalin rush when we have a close call while driving periodically, but most of us don’t get panic attacks unless we are getting ready to – gasp – speak in public! Hello, heebegebees!
Rest assured, stage fright is common to all speakers concerned about their performance. Try to remember that a little nervous tension is a good thing, and nervousness is directly proportional to how you perceive any situation.
There are three things about public speaking we can all do to improve our abilities. It doesn’t matter if you are already a professional speaker or if you have not yet given your ice breaker speech. Everyone benefits from these three little things.
Your mirror is now your new best friend. It may not be a magic mirror, but it sure does have power, and so do you. Today you will learn how to begin to see the image of the power within you in that mirror.
You know you are on the agenda to speak. You wrote your speech. You made changes to it and you are satisfied with it. Now, go to that mirror. But don’t say one word!
Instead, stand in front of the mirror and think the words! As you do, allow your body to move as it may. Just as your body freely moves in dance to music, allow your facial expressions and your whole body to move as you think your speech. Watch yourself in the mirror.
If you lose your place, don’t restart. Just pick up where you left off and go on from there. If you leave something out, don’t worry about that right now. Just get through your speech, only thinking the words and watching your body language.
Done? OK, now do it again. This time, mouth the words but do not say them yet. As you do this, you will be amazed at the new ideas that come to you that you didn’t think of when you wrote your speech. This is the perfect time to edit what you thought was a final draft. You’ll find you are excited because you’ve just thought of some little quip or gesture that will have a big influence on your audience.
Feel free now to deliver the speech out loud. You can practice its delivery anytime you have time and as often as you wish before the time comes to speak in public.
Perhaps you say I only gave you one of the three little things, but in fact, I’ve given you more. Do you realize what was happening to you while you were watching yourself think your speech in the mirror?
You were concentrating on watching your body language, but two other things were going on silently in the background while you were first thinking the words of your speech, then mouthing them. First, your brain was learning how to perfect your speech, and something else even more subtle was happening silently – something you did not even notice.
Every cell in your entire body – every cell – was recording those rehearsals as true experiences.
Every time you quiet yourself down and visualize yourself at Toastmasters or elsewhere, imagine yourself standing by the stage waiting to be announced. Think in detail how it will be when the Toastmaster or your employer calls your name to speak. Visualize walking to the stage confidently, greeting the audience and speaking in a smooth, clear, eloquent, winning way. Each time you do this visualization exercise, your body records the memory of it as if it had actually taken place.
What happens with experience? You gain confidence, don’t you? Those memories your brain recorded are experiences. When you speak in the mirror, not to the mirror, that’s an experience. Each time you speak in front of a live audience, that’s an experience. Never miss a speaking opportunity to gain even more experience.
Did you know that Olympic swimmers are taught to imagine their fingers being six inches longer than they are? There’s a great deal to be said for visualizing and recording experiences in your body’s memory. Your body cannot distinguish visualization from actual experience. Ever hear yourself asking, “Did I do that or just think I did?”
The third little thing you can do to manage fear and nervousness is to relax. Tension can still build even if you are an accomplished public speaker. Focus on your shoulders. Tighten them for a few seconds and then release them when you stand waiting to be introduced.
If you can, half an hour before you speak, relax by holding your arms out to the sides, parallel to the floor, and rotate them in small circles forward ten times and backwards ten times. Drop your head to your chest and roll it gently to the right, back and left.
Nervousness can cause a shortness of breath. For better voice projection and resonance, when you inhale, make sure the diaphragm and stomach – not the chest – are expanding.
Remember, even if you are nervous, your audience is unaware of things that you as the speaker thinks are embarrassingly obvious. Walk and talk with confidence. Take control. Your audience is impressed with you and wants to hear every word you say.
So long, you heebegeebees, you!