We’ve all experienced stage fright and can likely relate to Eminem’s song Lose Yourself: “His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy” (I hope you didn’t have the same sweater problem like he did in the song). In many ways eloquent speaking has a lot in common with rapping. It is not as outwardly rhythmical – not that it lacks rhythm – and you don’t get a beat to cover your mistakes, make you more colourful and keep your rhythm steady.
Talent is one thing when it comes to public speech but people tend to forget it is a skill more than anything else. A lot of people don’t even allow themselves to visualise a situation where they are addressing a crowd for fear of exposure. Still, being able to hold an audience’s attention is a much desired skill for professional situations as well as personal social situations. Here are a few don’ts which you can avoid in order to help you boost your public speaking skills and conquer your fear of the stage!
1. They don’t rush things
When panic strikes everything speeds up. Your heart rate goes up, you start shaking, a million thoughts go through your head and you start to speed up everything that you do. This means that you start talking faster than usual without being aware of it. By being aware of the jitters that they experience before going on stage, professional speakers deliberately slow down to the speed at which they talk in order to avoid blabbering, stuttering and losing their flow.
2. They don’t allow negative thoughts to control them
Over thinking is a very common problem these days and you can easily be spiralling into a self-induced state of panic if you let your mind wander. By focusing only on the reasons why and the possibilities how you are going to fail a certain endeavour, you can provoke a very real fear. Even though the situation is not that challenging, you are still going to perceive the negative potential of the situation since that is the only thing you are focusing on. Public speaking doesn’t necessarily need to be viewed in that classic “politician to the crowd” sense, it can also be a required skill in the office environment. This can be difficult for a lot of people to achieve and is why there is so much talk about creating a stress free office environment. Basically, it means better communication and organization.
Instead of doing this, attempt to hype yourself up. Try to visualize the whole thing as a sports match and set yourself into that winning mentality. I don’t mean a professional sports match, more like something you play against friends and you go in with that winning mentality that comes easily and naturally, since there is no pressure. This “I can do this” attitude may seem tacky, but it works and can help you channel that excess energy you get when panicking.
3. They don’t take the approach of a sales person
Salespeople have a specific oratory style which works for some situations. The first thing that comes to my mind as an example of this is the way a used cars salesman addresses a customer when trying to sell a car. Now, if you want to be an eloquent speaker, you need to steer clear from this “style”. Depending on personal preference you can attempt to be more than a few things and find your perfect fit. You can attempt to be entertaining, charming, interesting, or inspirational but never allow yourself to get into a situation where you come off as someone who is attempting to make money from the people you are addressing.
4. They don’t avoid eye contact
When people are performing in front of a large crowd (remember that speaking is a performing art) they tend to avoid making eye contact with people in an attempt to depersonalize the situation. Yes, it is true that you can lower your stress levels by focusing on a faceless crowd and this can work for some performing artists – let’s say a guitarist – but the nature of the situation you are in requires you to make eye contact with the people you are speaking to. According to Forbes it is one of the worst body language mistakes you can pull off! It is only the polite thing to do and it helps you establish a better connection with your audience. After all, this is a dialogue between you and your audience and you need to establish this dialogue.
5. They don’t focus on negative people in the crowd
The reason a lot of people avoid eye contact with people in the audience has a lot to do with their fear of finding people who are outwardly showing signs of disapproving what they are saying. What do you do when you run into people like that? Well, nothing, you merely skip over them and focus on those who are saying “Yes” instead of “No”. Draw your energy from them and keep them with you. There are always going to be people who disapprove and if you chase for everyone’s approval you are only going to put yourself down.
6. They don’t forget about their accent
If you are not a native English speaker, then you are bound to have an accent (even if you are a native speaker, you likely have distinctive pronunciation habits). The accent isn’t something that you should be worried about if your grammar is decent, but your accent can be hard to decipher for people that have never heard it before. This is why speakers tend to make a short but slow-paced introduction in order to let their audience adjust to their accent. The human ear is a very capable instrument, but it needs a bit of time to make the adjustment, so don’t rush things so you and lose your crowd through most of your introduction while they are still adjusting to your accent.
7. They don’t forget to breathe
When in state of panic, our body tends to tense up and our muscles tend to contract. The same thing happens to people who have anxiety. Their body tightens and they forget to breathe which makes them panic even more. They start to stutter and panicked thoughts keep running around their head and they break down. The most basic way is just to always remind yourself to breathe. When speaking in front of a crowd, get on stage, take a couple of breaths and compose yourself before you start talking. Don’t worry, your audience will wait for you and remember that you have control of the situation, so if you need a couple of seconds to catch your breath, take them. It is far worse to elevate your stress level and start losing your flow.
8. They don’t focus on a repetitive motions
Again, repetitive motions like foot tapping, hand and fingers cracking and similar automatic movements are some of those nifty tricks our body uses to get us ready for those fight or flight situations and again, is absolutely useless to us in these kinds of situations. Even though it might seem natural satisfying this urge, it won’t help you feel any better. Quite the opposite, it will make you feel even more under pressure. Furthermore, this is a very outward sign of nervousness which everyone can recognize, which can ruin the credibility of what you are saying. Pacing falls into this category as well, because losing control of this can make you winded, which will definitely influence your diction, your phrasing and so on.
9. They don’t miss the tone of the subject matter
Missing the tone is something that can turn into a very awkward situation, but in most cases, it isn’t hard to do. Don’t drag humour where it has no place and strive to show respect to serious things. On the other hand, if your goal is to inspire people, don’t make your tone flat and boring. Rise to the excitement level contained in the words you are vocalizing. Professionals play with tone in order to provoke a more dramatic reaction, but first, you need to be comfortable with the subject matter and be able to find its most natural tone. Then, and only then should you try to experiment with tone. Don’t try to run before you can walk.
10. They don’t forget to research their audience
You need to be able to adapt. Not every environment is the same nor are the customs and social norms, so you need to be aware of what is considered polite behaviour and who are the people that you are going to be addressing. This is the same for online mass communication, which sounds complicated, but it’s basically knowing the basic customs when addressing people on Facebook. Similarly, you need some time to adjust to the particularities of a social network and you need to devote some time to finding the right approach for a particular audience.
11. They don’t EVER forget to show gratitude
People’s attention is a gift and you should thank people for it. Somebody took the time to give you a shot to do your thing and this is an amazing gift. If you take it as a given, you are actually being very rude. Furthermore, people tend to remember and react to polite people better which is essential for good speakers to be remembered.
Self-control is a bit of an issue with public speech and it is a craft you need to spend your time and your attention on. A bit of talent and a lot of hard work, mixed with productive and immersive practice sessions leads to perfection.