The moments before you take centre stage for a presentation, interview or performance are some of the hardest, most emotionally wonky situations you'll ever find yourself in. Just as it's incredibly important to know what to do when you're presenting, it's vital to know what to do beforehand. Here's a checklist to help decrease your anxieties of public speaking and chill yourself out.
Almost everyone gets butterflies in their stomach before they become the centre of attention, but whether you're preparing a presentation at work, gearing up for a job interview or taking on a public performance, the tips to being successful start well before you hit the (metaphorical) stage. I talked with comedian Andrew Orvedahl to come up with a checklist of ways to calm yourself down. The first step to acing your performance is to make sure you're prepared.
Make Sure You're Prepared
Trying to rush through a practice run of your material right before walking on a stage or into an interview is a terrible way to calm yourself down. In fact, it's probably going to make you more nervous.
Instead, the best defence against the pre-performance jitters is preparation. Here are a few simple things you can do before you present yourself to strangers that will help ensure your success.
- Run through the material out loud: It doesn't matter if you're talking to a mirror, the cat or a few patient family members. Run through your material in front of some type of audience. When you speak out loud you'll notice inconsistencies, oddities and problems. Correct for those and run through the material again and again until you're happy with it. Orvedahl also adds: "Even if you plan to go off script, mentally prepare for that to happen."
- Memorise the first minute: For a lot of people, the five minutes leading up to a public speaking situation and the first minute of that speaking are the worst part. Get in there and memorise that first section as best as you can. Calming yourself down isn't about memorising the whole speech; it's just about laying that foundation so you can get through the most uncomfortable part.
- Prepare some answers ahead of time: Chances are you're going to forget a detail or you're not going to cover it that well. As we've pointed out before, explaining less is a good way to keep people engaged, and it's also a sure-fire way to guarantee you'll have some questions afterwards. Know your material, know the gaps in your presentation (or your resume), and prepare answers for everything.
You can only spend so much time preparing and if you overdo it you'll likely be disappointed in yourself when you don't run through it perfectly. Preparation is a great way to keep the butterflies away right before you have to speak, but it's not going to stop it all together. Let's look at how you can calm yourself down right before you speak. Photo by moon angel.
Calm Yourself Down Before the Performance
The worst part about speaking in public is the five or 10 minutes right before you have to actually talk to people. How you handle these minutes can help ensure you'll be calm and relaxed when speaking.
- Distract Yourself: The best way to keep your mind from thinking about something is to keep it occupied. Orvedahl recommends bringing along a book to read, a game to play on your phone, or talking with friends (or anyone around you) before you hit the stage.
- Create a Ritual: A little ritual is a great way to not only keep yourself distracted but also to calm yourself down. Come up with something that works for you. Take a short walk around the building, do 50 push-ups, or practise your breathing. Routines are used by sports players and performers all the time for a reason: they're a great way to clear your mind.
- Embrace Your Nervous Tendencies: Everyone has nervous tendencies and they're nothing to worry about. In fact, if you embrace them you can learn to control them a little better. Have a shaking knee? Focus your energy on making it shake. As Orvedahl points out: "Being nervous is not a bad thing. It will give you energy and drive if you harness it correctly."
- Don't Drink Alcohol or Caffeine: Orvedahl stresses that you should avoid two of the most common pre-performance drinks before presenting. Caffeine can make you more nervous and anxious than you already are. For its part, alcohol is a great way to get relaxed, but it also slows your brain a little and makes it hard come up with quick-witted responses.
- Boost Your Confidence: This seems like simple advice, but it's still good to think about. If you're struggling to remain confident, Orvedahl has some simple advice. "[Remember] there's a reason you were given this opportunity, so use that logic to project your confidence." Unless you were picked randomly from a hat and brought onto a stage, you must have some quality that people like, so remember that if you get nervous. Photo by centermez.
Public speaking might be a big fear among a lot of people, but proper preparation and good behaviour beforehand can make a huge difference in the quality of your presentation. To help you out, we've put together a handy pocket-sized checklist to go along with the list above so you can easily remember the ways to combat stage fright no matter where you are. Have some tips of your own? Share them in the comments.