“Staring out across the audience, I could feel the nerves wanting to take over, the feeling of dread coming back into the pit of my stomach… NO, I said to myself, you’ve got this. I focused on the far wall of the room, just slightly above everyone’s head and breathed, in and out, in and out. The walls were a slight shade of grey, there were blinds across the entire back wall… Good morning and thank you for that lovely warm welcome!”
Giving speeches, presenting and being in front of a live audience is something many of us are now getting back into. Some of my clients never stopped their face to face interactions and others did through COVID, so it’s a little different for everyone. Something that is similar though, is many leaders face stress and anxiety when they’re faced with having to present in front of an audience. Some of us are fine when it’s the internal team, maybe up to 10 people is ok. Others have absolute conniptions and want to pass out if there is 100+ in front of them.
Leadership is about speaking. It is always about being able to rally the troops and take them on the journey, so regardless of whether you have to speak in front of 20 or 200, it’s useful to have a few tricks up your sleeve.
Are you one of those who love it, hate it or are kind of like neither here nor there? Or have you perhaps simply learnt to manage and deal with it over time?
At around 13 years old in year 7 at school, was running late to choir practice, snuck into the pew and was suddenly called upon to get up and audition for this Christmas Service. I’d mistakenly slid into the WRONG end of the church pew…
Next up and petrified, everything was shaking, my voice wasn’t warm, didn’t even know the Christmas carol, I was supposed to sing. It was a HUGE DISASTER.
Embarrassed for quite some years. It did nothing for my solo singing career what so ever. In fact, I never sang by myself ever again. Went on to be a fabulous choir singer who loved being part of the crowd. However, a nagging desire to sing, to share my voice and music, kept niggling, for quite some time and so… years later in my mid-twenties, I took myself off for singing lessons. I remember the very first one with my gorgeous teacher, may she rest in peace now. At the time, she was already 80 in the shade, yet had a passion for singing and still the voice of an angel. She inspired me to sing, to love my voice, no matter what and to share the gift. After that, sang at weddings and parties. Whilst nowadays it’s been nursery rhymes, then Frozen, One Direction phase, oh and now onto The Greatest Showman track – I still vividly recall those lessons, the nurture and passion she instilled in me.
We must surround ourselves with people who believe in us and want us to perform at our best.
Hey, so I’m no Marina Prior, Madonna or Pink – BUT, I love sharing a gift with an audience.
So what does singing have to do with your public speaking ability?
It’s another one of those ways to share your gifts. If you think about the possibility of talking to your team, directors around the boardroom table, speaking at a conference or inspiring your ‘audience’ in whatever way you interact!
- Do you break out in a sweat?
- Does your stomach start doing cartwheels?
- Does your mouth go dry?
- Does your mind start to freeze over?
- Do you worry about what to say?
We all respond differently to nerves and the fear of public speaking, so here are a few of my favourite strategies for preparing for and overcoming the nerves and doubts during a presentation.
1. Focus on the One!
Remember one person alone needs to hear what you have to say. Alternatively contribute to, learn or hear from your experiences. Never discount the value of speaking literally to that one person in the room. No matter how many are sitting in front of you, 1, 10, 100 or 1000 – one person is looking forward to the idea, opportunities, solutions you have for their situation, problem or issue, whether brainstorming the positive or to solve suffering and struggle. YOU have the ability to inspire, educate and lead them to better ways of being in business, being part of a team or in life.
2. Expanded Awareness
Raise your eyes to above eye level. Imagine (or put one there) a black dot on the wall. Look at the dot, all your focus and then slowly expand your awareness, taking in all the sights, sounds, movements, shapes, objects that you can now see in your peripheral vision. From the back of the room, to the front, and across to each side, you will suddenly notice you can see the whole room, you are aware of what is going on all around you, where people are, who is moving, who is bored, who is fascinated. You can “READ” your audience, by being sensitive and aware of everything that is going on, yet, you have the ability to look upward to breathe and refocus at any time. Always avoid looking down at your feet always. If by chance you become distracted, lose thought, or need to re-calibrate your energy and pace, look upward to your dot on the wall.
3. See the Finish
This particular technique is highly valued by elite athletes for their sporting endeavours. Picture yourself 15 minutes after successful completion of the event, negotiation, conversation, meeting or presentation. See yourself afterwards, back in the car, driving home, or back at your desk, afterwards talking to participants, clients, team, colleagues or audience members who were present and listening. See what you’re wearing, what’s around as you pass by in the car, notice the noises and the sounds. It could be people congratulating you, acknowledging what they learnt, or will implement or maybe you even see them implement your ideas at their desks after your presentation or discussion. Make sure you engage the sight, sound and feeling (physical) of what will you be feeling as well. A lightness, smiling and calm stomach. The better you can be at using all the senses, the stronger the body’s ability will be to associate with your successful completion of the event. Then in the moment when the nerves come and they will, in different ways, remember we’re all unique to how we experience our nerves. Simply see your finish, keep picturing it and remember your ONE person.
4. The Power of the Pause
Seriously, it is amazing how many people forget to pause and breathe. The reason we unconsciously (or consciously) add so many Umm’s into our speaking, is that it gives our brain time to catch up to where we are up to with speaking, to recall information, to remember where we are up to in our speech or to be making it up, if we are being spontaneous or talking off the cuff. Be ok with using pauses, allow space, both for you to process information, also your ‘audience’. Pauses add effect. The pause creates drama. Focus on key words and it can be a very subtle and powerful tool to diversify and enhance the experience you are creating/having. For the nerves, it slows you down, and oxygen (YES.. BREATH) does wonders for the brain to keep it firing! So remember to enjoy pausing and breathing.
To be great at presenting there is more to it around using a solid presenting structure that helps you with engagement, recall of content and information, becoming an incredible storyteller and practice.
Nothing beats or can fast-track good old fashioned practice.
So here’s to your presenting. Here’s to your nerves. Thank them for wanting to keep you safe and protect you, let them know you are all good and ready to ROCK that stage or the boardroom the next time the opportunity arises.
Go rock it,
P.S Whenever you’re ready… here are 4 ways I can help you develop and work on your business leadership capabilities:
1. Download a free copy of The Leadership Maximiser Tool, a detailed Productivity and Performance Experience
Lead with clarity and confidence. Minimise overwhelm and indecision. Be organised and focused to lead a flourishing team and grow a thriving business. Accelerate results for you, the team and business with this step-by-step tool. — Click here
2. Join the Empowering Leaders in Business Facebook group and connect with like-minded leaders focused on high-performance team success
It’s our Facebook community where smart leaders get to learn more about creativity, leadership and performance. — Click here
3. Join our next Mental Fitness for Leaders Program
Helping leaders develop their skills for well-being, relationship and conflict management, productivity and peak performance in the workplace. If you’d like to work with me on your business leadership skills to ensure high engagement, accountability and results for and across the team…message PQ to me here and I’ll get you all the details.
4. Let’s get the whole team together
Would you like a different perspective and someone else at the front of the room or on zoom/teams to lead regular and consistent team building, accountability and engaging learning experiences, that drive results and outcomes for individuals, teams and the business? If you feel a little challenged with everything going on, maybe sounding like a cracked recorded saying things over and over again, or actually not 100% how to motivate and inspire the team, given the current nature of business, it’s may be useful for us to chat. Message TEAM to me here… and tell me a little about the business, your team and what you’d like to work on together.