The day I stop getting a little bit anxious before addressing a group
is the day that I need to stop speaking.
This past week I had the pleasure to speak to 1,000 educators at the annual Moran Lecture Series in Hobbs, New Mexico. Although I did my usual “rehearse-aholic” preparations, I found the butterflies particularly active in the 30 minutes prior to the event kickoff.
Sitting in the backstage dressing room, the little butterflies could have easily been mistaken for elephants stampeding through my innards.
As usual though, those little Monarchs simmered down. And they helped to keep my focused.
Actually, I go looking for them before each presentation.
Whether the audience is a 1,000 or 10, I ALWAYS get butterflies. For me, that remains a positive. They give me an edge, keep me alert, and let me know that I still care about what I do. The day I stop getting a little bit anxious before addressing a group is the day that I need to stop speaking.
For some folks, though, the butterflies create massive anxiety, dread, and a loss of confidence. The following eight strategies have helped me tame my butterflies. Adapt as necessary for your situations.
Video recommendation for the week:
- Rehearse. If you want to feel more confident, you need to know your material, props and technology. Don’t “go on” if you are not prepared. It’s insult to the audience.
- Walk-through. Whenever possible do a walk-through of the venue. Know what it looks like from the stage (front of the room) and what the audience will see from their seats. Consider a virtual walk-through before you even get to the venue. As I readied myself for the Hobbs talk, I found the venue (Tydings Auditorium) online and then found a video of someone giving a talk from the stage I would occupy. In this manner I was fairly well prepared when I walked into the auditorium. No big surprises about the room.
- Tech check. During my walk-through I do a tech check. Video, sound, projector, microphone, and lighting.
- Meet and greet. Before I start speaking, I always find it calming to meet members of the audience, shake hands and exchange a welcome. In large groups, it’s impossible to connect with each person but the mere fact that I am out and about lets the other audience members see me. I find it disarming (in a good way) for me and them.
- Nourished and hydrated. I know what my body needs (light snack and water) and does not need (ice and carbs) right before an engagement.
- Quiet moment. In larger venues, a dressing room can provide an oasis of solitude. Most of the time you won’t have that luxury. So a walk down a quiet hallway, a moment in the restroom, or simply closing your eyes can provide the solitude needed.
- Kind eyeballs. This is something I learned from reading and listening to the late Leo Buscaglia. Once I get in front of the group, I scan the audience for those folks who are looking at me. I notice the dancing and gleaming eyes. While I speak to my entire audience, initially such kind eyeballs can put me at ease.
- Structure. The first few minutes of any presentation are critical. This is where you will lose, gain, or at least buy some time from the audience. Do/present something that catches attention. It could be a pertinent story, a funny video (very short), or a demonstration with a member of the audience. This, of course, requires planning and rehearsal. See #1 above.
Understand that butterflies are a speaker’s friend. Nurture yours. Let them guide you.
Make it a wonderful week—H.T.R.B. as needed.
Information on my newest book, Choices for College Success (3rd ed.), can be found at Pearson Education.
(c) 2014. Steve Piscitelli. All rights reserved.