I sell color for a living to paint companies around the world. By that, I mean those little paint chips (swatches) and color fans you often see in home improvement retailers that help you select your paint colors. As such, I’m often called upon to make all kinds of presentations on a variety of topics: Color Trends, Market Trends, Color Psychology, and sales proposals. Sometimes it’s a one-on-one situation, and other times it can be before groups of varying size. I’ve been making these presentations for over 20 years, and no matter how often I do them, I still get stage fright.
Call it ritual, call it superstition, or call it what it really is: a plea for help, but before every presentation, I always make the same request: Dear God, Pleasedon’t let me sound stupid. And while that little prayer always makes me feel better, I know that if I’m to make a good presentation the power lies within me.
What follows are some tips that I use to reduce stage fright and help me feel more relaxed before an audience. I don’t think I’ll ever eliminate my stage fright completely, in fact, I don’t think I want to because a little adrenaline is a good thing. It keeps you sharp.
- Know your subject. If you aren’t prepared, you know it, you increase your anxiety levels, and that shows. Very few people can “wing it.” I prefer to know what I’m going to say before I say it. It saves me from making gaffes.
- Rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse. It’s so important that I’ve said it three times. It’s important to hear the sound of your own voice, to stutter, stammer and lose your train of thought before an imaginary audience. Once you do that, it’s out of your system and you won’t have to worry about that happening before your live audience.
- Get the audience on your side. If you have an opportunity to meet a few people before your presentation or speech, then you are no longer talking to “strangers.” It’s a lot easier to talk to people you know. Focus on these familiar faces during your early remarks and, as your confidence increases, branch out to the rest of the audience.
- Start with a little humor whenever possible. Try and link it to your topic. I sometimes start by saying, “It’s a small world, just don’t try to paint it.” Or something more generic. “A public speaking guru once told me, that if you tell your audience that you’re a little nervous, you’ll feel less so.” Pause to let it sink in. And then in a deadpan voice, say, “He lied.” That usually elicits a chuckle and creates empathy.
- Keep calm. If there’s a podium, place your hands lightly on it for balance. Fidgeting is a distraction.
- Breathe. (This should have been number one!) It’s here only because I usually begin to breathe only after I’ve started. Try and remember to take a deep breath before you start.
- Smile. It’s like yawning: it’s contagious.
- Make eye contact. Move your gaze around the room. To make everyone feel included, cast wide glances at areas of the room because you can’t make eye contact with everyone.
- Take command of the room. In informal presentations, where everyone is sitting down, always make sure to stand up. What you have to say is important and you want people to focus.
- Relax. You can’t make a mistake. If you leave something out, finish early or add things, no one will know but you.Photo: © iStockphoto.com/sdominick