If you’re not sweating, you’re not human.
We all get nervous when we present in front of others. It doesn’t matter if your audience is as small as a job interview or a meeting with your boss, or as big as a presentation to your team or your company. Sweat does not discriminate against audience size. When we are nervous, we sweat. But sweating doesn’t mean we are scared or weak. It means we are alive and well and that our bodies are telling us we are ready to meet the challenge of our performance.
Just be prepared, because I learned the hard way when I found myself stuffing mini pads into the sleeves of my favorite red dress just before taking the stage to speak at an event. Big tip – if you are planning to wear a light color, have your dry cleaner sew pads into your outfit ahead of time. It’s a small cost that is well worth it. Trust me, you will thank me later.
I always say the better the audience, the better the speech. A good audience is the power behind your presentation. Get to know your audience before you speak. Mingle in the crowd prior to your talk to get some anecdotes you can share at the top of your presentation. When you bring your audience into your presentation, you suddenly feel calm, which helps stop your nerves from sabotaging your success.
Open your speech with a little bit about yourself and invite one or two people in your audience to share a little bit about themselves. This immediately connects you to your audience and that barrier between you and “them” is no longer there. You are now a community of friends and friends take selfies together! Throw in a quick selfie and feel the room become yours.
Think of your speech as more of a conversation. If you find yourself getting lost along the way, use your audience to get you back on track. It’s a little trick I used all the time when I performed the pre-show warm-up for The OprahWinfrey Show. If my mind went blank, which it often did, I would call on someone in the audience and use the time to regroup. No one ever knew I stumbled and a quick conversation always makes your presentation more inclusive. Thinking and chatting with someone at the same time is not always easy, but when it works, it’s magic!
Before you present, make sure you are happy. Go for a run, meditate, listen to your favorite song, have a conversation with a friend so you can laugh and loosen up. You want to go into your speech knowing that you have support no matter how it goes. When you take the stage happy, your confidence shows.
“When you take the stage happy, your confidence shows.”
And be a good listener. In order to be a good speaker, you have to be a good listener. When you connect with someone in your audience at the top of your presentation, use their story and their name in a later part of your presentation. Incorporating live content into your speech not only gets the audience’s attention, it instantly makes you memorable.
And by all means, be yourself! I will never forget when a producer at a high profile event said to me, “You know what I like about you? You’re not slick.” At first I didn’t know whether to take his comment as a complete insult or a compliment. But as I sat with his words I knew he was right. I am not slick and that is what makes me, ME. It was actually one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me and it reminds me of my favorite quote from mythologist and writer Joseph Campbell who says, “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” Remember, your gift is YOU. No one else has what you have to offer. Use what is unique about you to your advantage.
“Remember, your gift is YOU.”
If someone sneezes in the middle of your speech, say “God Bless You.” If someone walks into the room, welcome them. If an audience member reacts to what you are speaking about, ask them to share what they are feeling. Make the moments real. If you make a mistake, own it. We are all human so have fun with your mistake. Like when I screamed “Welcome Kenny Loggins” when Kenny Rogers was backstage. That was a little too human for my liking!
So be sure to study your topic before you speak about it! Research it, consume it, talk about it, and make sure you have all your names straight. Incorporate how the topic relates to your audience and how it relates to you. Bring in pop culture references if they work. Be proud to represent your content and be comfortable sharing the part you relate to the most. The minute you share a piece of you, you become relatable and your audience connects with you. Think of yourself as a plug and the audience is the outlet. When you plug in, you are connected. And when you are connected you have power. The power behind your presentation is your connection with your audience.
“Think of yourself as a plug and the audience is the outlet. When you plug in, you are connected.”
In order to feel comfortable speaking in front of others, you have to practice. I avoid all mirrors and never watch myself on video. I prefer to practice in my car where there are no large mirrors. It’s like my own private soundproof booth. The small environment makes me feel safe. Find your safe spot and always have a script with you so when you have some down time in between meetings or errands, you can rehearse. Rehearsal is where the the best moments happen. In rehearsal your speech becomes more of YOU. Ideas pop up that are always better than what you could have ever written.
And finally, the last BIG tip – do not memorize or read your speech. Share your material like you would share a story. And remember, if you go blank, weave in a story that gets you back on track and always know that you can use your friends in the audience to help you. A good audience is always a speaker’s best shot at a successful speech.