Mark Twain once said, “There are two kinds of speakers: those that are nervous and those that are liars.” In other words, no matter how seasoned or “under-seasoned” you are when it comes to making presentations, there is going to be some particular audience, some particular topic, some particularly poor timing or something else in particular that is going to give you some sleepless nights and a queasy stomach in the morning.
I know this firsthand. I've been a professional speaker and communications coach for over 20 years, so when a client of mine offered me the incredible opportunity to present a keynote address on customer service to more than 2,000 financial-service professionals, nobody was more surprised than I was to hear these words leak out of my mouth, “Uh, no thanks.”
Was it the topic? Nope--I know customer service in my sleep. Was it the audience? No, I had plenty of experience working with financial service professionals. Was it the prep time? Hardly. I had six months' advance notice.
What was it? It was the fact that I was used to speaking to groups of a few dozen to a few hundred people, and the idea of speaking to thousands felt overwhelming. Impossible. Nauseating.
Of course, I ended up accepting the assignment (“I was just joking with you,” I lied). And the feedback was excellent (she added, humbly). But the most important takeaway I got from that experience is that Mark Twain had it right: Everyone has his or her own special source of stress when it comes to speaking in public.
It doesn’t matter if you’re presenting to two people or to 2,000 people: When presentation anxiety strikes, you need some strategies to get you out of your own head and on to the stage with confidence, polish, and professionalism. And I don’t know about you, but the old adage “picture them in their underwear” doesn’t cut it for me. In fact, I can’t think of too many things that would make me more nervous than imagining the human resources director crashing our “underwear only” meeting.
In James L. Brooks’ Oscar-nominated film Broadcast News, Albert Brooks’s neurotic newscaster (who suffered from a drenching case of on-air flop sweat) asked, "Wouldn't this be a great world if insecurity and desperation made us more attractive?”
Until that happens, here are three better strategies for managing your anxiety when it’s time for you to take the stage:
1. Exercise that morning.