Coping with stage fright

This month "Tips for Training Success" discusses practices and techniques that will help you avoid stage fright.
Published: Monday, June 16, 2008

You are about to facilitate a workshop. People are starting to enter the training room. The Executive Director is sitting up front. Funders are sitting in the back of the room. Your boss stands up to introduce you and you walk toward the stage.

As you approach the front of the room your confidence falls. Your stomach starts doing flips, your palms are sweating, and your mouth feels like it’s full of cotton balls. You pick up your notes and your hands are slightly shaking. As you start to speak, your voice quivers a bit. Has this ever happened to you? Welcome to the world of stage fright!

You are not alone if you have had this experience. Almost everyone has, even people who regularly speak to groups. Preparation is critical in overcoming stage fright. There are a few concepts that may help you to avoid stage fright:

Know your audience and setting:

Before making a presentation, it’s always important to acquaint yourself with both the audience and the setting. Try talking to a few people who will be in the audience before you start. Reviewing the list of participants will give you a better idea of the organizations that will be attending the workshop.

Remember to look over the setting before you present. Find out where you will be speaking and try to get there early. Check out the room’s acoustics, sit in a chair and see the room from the audience’s perspective. Test the equipment and assume nothing. Be flexible—it’s the key to being a successful trainer.

Prepare your material:

Never underestimate how important good research and preparation are to reducing your anxiety. Knowing what you want to accomplish, what you are going to say, and how you are going to say it, will make you feel less nervous. Mark Twain said that it took him 3 weeks to prepare an impromptu speech. Here are four rules for preparing your preparation:

  • Know your topic – Audiences can sense when you are bluffing and when they feel that you are unsure of your topic.
  • Prepare more material than you think you will use – If you need to give a 5 minute or 45 minute presentation, develop enough materials to last longer. It’s better to pare down than to run out of things to say.
  • Imagine questions people might ask – Come up with answers before you give your presentation. Either incorporate the answer into your presentation or hold them in readiness in case those questions are asked.
  • Memorize the first 60 seconds of your presentation – The greatest anxiety is experienced at the beginning of a speech. It could make you more comfortable and allows you to get rolling.
  • Avoid rigid rules – Remember to use humor in your presentation. It allows the audience to relax and bit and giggle. They tend to be alert and waiting for the next funny comment that will come from you.

Usually after your presentation, participants will come up to you and congratulate you on a job well done. Most speakers who think that they are nervous don’t really appear to be nervous to the audience at all. Stop beating yourself, chances are you are a great presenter and facilitator. The more you practice, the more confident you will be as a speaker. Most importantly, remember to have fun with your material, your presentation and with the audience. You will find that the audience wants to have a good time too.

Remember, every presentation has three essential objectives. The first aim is to educate: the audience should learn something from your speech. The second is to entertain: the audience should enjoy your presentation. The final element is to explain: all parts of your speech should be clear to your audience.

Remember to enjoy each presentation.




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