Something rather interesting took place yesterday night when I went to attend yet another meeting I found via meetup.com. I thought that it would be a good idea to attend something close to where I live. So I went to the toastmasters meeting with the main idea in mind to hear some new topics and discussions about “Health and Fitness” as this was their theme of the day. And I had no clue what Toastmasters were all about. For some reason I was convinced that it was all about some motivational and self-development tools to learn and use in life. And now, imagine my surprise when I’ve learned on the spot that it is all about the art of public speaking and that every guest will have 2-3 minutes to come up to the stage and talk to everyone!
Have You Ever Had a Stage Fright Before?
Last time I was on stage was during our high-school musical we performed with my classmates years ago. I had a leading role and I was under a lot of pressure. Everything went smoothly during rehearsals. Everything seemed to be perfect until the day of the main performance in front of every teacher that taught me, in front of the everybody I knew back then. I was trembling. 1000 and 1 thoughts per millisecond were rushing through my head bumping into each other. I had a hard time keeping myself together, but somehow I did. But when the curtain finally closed I collapsed miserably and unconscious…
Since then until yesterday I had a huge stage fright that I thought was impossible to overcome. But I was wrong. So there I was. Sitting comfortably. Completely relaxed and unaware what was about to happen. The organisator’s helpers gave everyone a guest list to fill in so I did. I was sitting there listening carefully about tools and ideas that members were presenting. Suddenly, one of the members of the club suggested for guests to stand up and introduce themselves. And then it got real! “What? Me?! To stand up and say a few words in front of the huge conference room filled with strangers?! I’d rather drop unconscious again!”
I would not call myself a shy person. But when it comes to facing public and speak in front of the audience I really have a hard time even thinking about it. So I thought I would sit that one through. Somehow I thought that nobody would notice me in my red “modest” dress So when every single guest stood up I remained seated and “hid myself” – so I thought. And then a guy said: “Lady in red, why wouldn’t we start introducing ourselves, our goals and hobbies beginning with you”? And that question destroyed permanently every hope to hide myself ever again.
So I stood up and blabbed a couple of words saying: “Hi, I’m Lesya. I’m here to meet new people and hear new ideas on personal development. My hobby is scuba diving“! LOL! From all the interests I have - scuba diving was the last thing I ever expected to hear coming from me! After I set down I felt my face went red. “You see? Nothing bad happened. You can relax now. And what’s the deal with scuba diving?!” – I thought to myself.
Then the meeting continued and the topics of discussions were getting more and more interesting till one of the speakers decided to randomly ask guests to come up to the stage and join discussion by speaking to the audience for about 2-3 minutes. No rehearsals. Pure improvisation. Almost like everything in life, really! The first lady came out and spoke while I was sitting recovering from the first shockwave and being naive, expecting the sword swing by passing me… And when I heard the next topic for discussion I was 100% sure – the next speaker would be me. “The best ways to relax yourself” the topic was introduced. “Sure” – I thought. “I feel completely opposite now. Why couldn’t I go and speak about that in a second now”?! Ironically enough, I went. I read a lot about public speaking. But what’s the use of that knowledge if it sits there gathering dust in my mind without ever being used?! So in split seconds I’ve decided to use every tool I managed to recall on my way to the stage.
Simple Tools I’ve Used to Overcome Stage Fright
1. Establishing Eye Contact With “Friends”
It’s hard to speak in front of the audience of strangers. But is it so hard to speak in front of the people you know?! I was so terrified that I instinctively decided to fool myself into thinking I was speaking in front of my friends or people I knew years back in my life and always felt confident in their presence. So virtually, I was sharing my ideas on relaxation not with that blue-eyed guy I saw for the first time in my life, but instead for a brief second I imagined my beloved cousin on his place. That thought brought me comfort when I needed it the most. That’s how the anxiety was transformed into a positive energy to continue.
2. Roots down. From Fear To Presence
In my opinion, it is very important to avoid uncontrollable pacing back and forth. It takes more energy out of you and steals all the focus that could have been used in the very best interests of opening your topic fully. It’s important to stay grounded as a tree as if your legs grew into the stage. Feel your presence. Be in this particular moment. No avoidance. Find a way to enjoy the adrenaline that public speaking can give you fully.
3. Keep It Simple
Short sentences. Controlled breathing patterns. Breathe deeper as it drives oxygen to your brain and enriches it. Take short pauses if you need them.
4. Use your hands
What I noticed from all the speakers at this venue is that they all used their hands extensively. Most of the time the gestures are open and palms are facing the audience. This simple gesture lets people know that you are open and they become more susceptible to your speech. Use body language to your advantage and lead your audience with you to your point.
5. Forget little details
When people are listening, they want to hear your point. Going into too many little details and examples might feel like a good idea to prove your point but it can be a waste of valuable speaking time. There is a very short attention span that you can capture during your speech and you need to make sure that you deliver your main point fast.
6. Finish strong
I was surprised to hear myself speaking so comfortably after believing for so many years that I will never have to speak again in front of an audience. But hearing myself saying my point and the end and finishing with “and… that’s it” was cringeworthy. I realised that last words really matter and they will echo in people’s minds for a long time when they remember you and your speech. So if you have a strong point or a strong sentence that you want to use – use it at the end. Don’t end with the dreadful “and” as if there is another important thing to say and then say “that’s it… yeah” after an uncomfortable pause.
7. Significance Achieved
Understand that by coming out of your shell more often you are reinforcing your feeling and need to feel significant. No matter whether you are good or bad at public speaking, every time you do it – you get better. And every time people are listening to you and no one else.
By Lesya Li
Photo by Kitsu