A while ago I was watching a British chat show and I was very excited because one of the guests was Dame Helen Mirren, one of my favorite actresses. The host brought up some theater work that the guests have done so far, and a very interesting conversation developed between Helen and Paul Rudd as they contemplated stage fright. Now, here was an actress with 112 titles under her belt (everything from TV series to major Hollywood productions) and an untold number of plays as well, and yet she said that every time she faced an audience she felt very nervous, which included getting ready to appear on the chat show, which is shot in front of a live audience.
Wow, the woman who had won an Oscar and 76 other awards throughout her career was feeling nervous about appearing in front of people. The most important thing is that despite feeling anxiety each and every time she was about to perform, she still went on stage, overcame the stage fright and gave an exceptional performance – consistently for over 50 years. So don’t worry if you feel anxious, it is completely natural, and there are ways you can overcome the fear. Here are some tips to help you become a more confident public speaker.
- Develop your speech around several major points
The major points will be the skeleton of your speech - they will hold everything together and make it easier to remember the speech and have a more fluid presentation. As long as you are sticking to the point everything can flow more naturally and you can develop the points you want to get across. Even if you get stuck, you can take a breath and fall back to the basic idea of a particular section of your speech and take it from there.
- Memorize the key points by practicing them in different rooms in the house
Knowing the most important parts of the speech by heart will make you more confident, and it will be easier for you to keep going despite feeling nervous. If your mind goes blank make a brief pause and picture yourself back in the room practicing your speech – it will be much easier to remember and continue your chain of thought. And most importantly, practice, practice, practice. Practice giving the speech in front of a few people you know, and do it when you’re alone for a few hours, over and over again, going from room to room.
- Write down all the things that make you nervous and address them
Most people are afraid that they will freeze and forget what they were saying, that they will sound too timid and boring, that they will be clumsy, that their voice will break or that they will start rambling instead of sticking to the point. Whatever your biggest worries are, write them down and go over them one by one. Take an area that you feel might trip you up and practice hard to become very good in that area. If you think your voice will break or that you will be too monotone work on your presentation skills, i.e. intonation and gesticulation - take some singing classes to learn how to project your voice.
- Take public speaking courses
If you feel that you lack the skill to write a good speech, and that you are simply getting too many things wrong, a public speaking course is a good investment for you. A short course will cover all the basics and give you the most important techniques and tips needed to overcome fear and give a very good speech.
- Exercise and calm your breathing
While preparing the speech and the presentation you will be under a lot of stress so it is a good idea to engage in some physical activity in the morning and after a busy day to blow of some steam. You will feel much better after some running or aerobics, and you will give your brain a chance to rest. Getting good at controlling your breeding is also important and it won’t take more than about a week of practice to get a hang of it. Inhale through the nose, keep it in for a couple of seconds and slowly exhale through the mouth to the count of 8-10. This is a basic exercise and you can find a lot more breathing exercises online (search for yoga breathing).
Being prepared, practicing and knowing how to give the best speech won’t mean that you will not feel anxious – you will have to get over the fear every time you face a crowd, but if you can calm down and fall back to your training you will find that it is not so bad.