Stage fright is not a medical condition, nor does it have anything to do with one’s heritage.
It is, however, one of the single most misdiagnosed conditions of public speaking. As a result, it has had no substantive resolution – until now.
So what is it?
Symptomatically, it is easy to define. Butterflies. Excessive sweating. Turning red. Going blank. Tightness in the throat. These physical phenomena, easy to observe, have been the target of most ineffective solutions.
Deep breathing. Pick a spot at the back of the room. Imagine the audience naked. Take a drink. Take a pill. Notice how each solution targets the symptom, not the cause and this is what traditional solutions have typically focused on – the symptoms.
The cause, however, is not physical. It’s mental. (If you can accept that thought can affect physical reaction, then you get it.)
You see a car coming at you. First, you’re scared (mental) then you immediately start sweating and feel flushed (physical).
So what’s the cause?
Our first tip off to the cause was noting that presenters’ nervousness always elevated when confronted (faced with) with an actual audience. That’s when stage fright kicked into high gear. If the audience was asked to turn away from this same presenter their nervousness goes down pricipitiously. (We’ve tried this repeatedly with the same result). Therefore, we conclude that confronting (facing up to) a group of people has a lot to do with it.
Our second insight comes from observing how presenters who become engaged with their audience typically become calmer and more composed. We can, therefore, deduce that trying to speak with “the group” and being “unengaged” are triggers to nervousness.
The solutions then become quite simple to execute.
1. Speak to individuals within the group instead of the group as a whole.
You do this by completing an idea with one audience member at a time. Look for some form of feedback and when you get it, move to the next person. If you do not get the feedback, no worries, just complete what you are saying to the person and move on to the next person.
You can also match the content with the person. In other words if you are speaking about sales, speak with the sales rep, franchise owner or CMO.
If on the other hand you’re speaking about consumer research findings, go over and speak with the companies analyst, consumer insights manager or sales reps looking for new ways to position the sale of their products.
Avoid scanning the room like a machine gun on automatic or spending too much time reading from and too your presentation aids. Both these serve to “avoid” speaking with the audience and inevitably perpetuate stage fright.
2. Engage with versus pitch to an audience.
It is one of the least utilized yet most persuasive methods of giving a presentation while substantially reducing the nerves.
Ask questions, give things out to the audience to touch and feel (products – both the audiences and their competitions), ask them to take notes on key points of the presentation, use examples and analogies to engage the audience mentally.
Plan when and where in your presentations you will engage until it becomes second nature to you.
Finally, for those of you who have trouble with the first few minutes of the presentation, this is where engaging the audience can pay off big time.
Before you start the actual presentation ask simple things like:
♦ “Did you recieve the Agenda we sent ahead by email? – Any questions?”
♦ “Since I know we are under a time pressure, are there any changes to the 30″ we have allot for this presentation?”
♦ “Lou, thank you for inviting the group together today. Are there any items you would like to add to the Agenda since our last discussion on Wednesday?”
In each case, you engage with the group before you actually start presenting. This calms things down and gets you ready to start the presentation with a greater sense of comfort.
Start every presentation or speech you give with a BANG.
B = Big
A = Amazing
N = Needed
G = Gift
Example: Today we are going to show you how to increase sales by at least 25% over that which you are currently enjoying.
Example: We are here to answer a single question. How do we compete against the likes of Wall-Mart, Target and Sears with a fraction of their budget?
Once you see the audiences response to the BANG, this inevitably gives you the needed feedback upon which to feed and confidently move to giving them the answer to that which you promised.
For further information on this or any other Louws training or consulting contact:
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