How to Command your Audience's Attention
This article is first in a series of exploring effective platform skills for the public speaker written by actor/storyteller and presentation skills coach E. Glenn.
- Dealing With Nervousness
- Remember to Breath
- Don't forget to...
- How to Rehearse
- The Power of Self-Talk
- Stage your Presentation
- Be Bold
Dealing With Nervousness
On the stress scale, public speaking is right up there with death and taxes. Most people don't know how to use their nervous energy, so instead it uses them.
When you move like the tin man in the Wizard of Oz before Dorothy oiled his joints; when you talk like your mouth is full of pebbles and when you look like a deer caught in the headlights, you are probably in the grips of performance anxiety.
Remember to Breath
When we are nervous, we tend to breath shallowly. This means that we don't get enough oxygen to our brain. That combined with the good kick of adrenaline that many of us get when confronted with an audience, can send us into full fledged fight or flight. Remedy this by breathing deeply and slowing down your mind. Include this in your rehearsal.
Don't forget to...
Here are a few other tips to help you overcome the effects of nerves.
1. Be clear about your vision / message. It gives you a point of focus outside of your shaky knees.
2. Have a solid skeleton of a speech. Dale Carnegie told us that 'a talk is like a journey, it must be charted'.
Having this chart makes you much less vulnerable to the effects of nervousness.
3. Rehearse your speech. Rehearsal builds muscle memory. This means that your body will remember what to do even if your brain has turned to mush.
How to Rehearse
It's important to learn 'how' to rehearse. Each rehearsal need not be a full run through. In fact it is often more effective if you break it down into small chunks. Once you have mastered the small bits, you can put them together and work on the flow.
Give each rehearsal a focus.
E.g. One focus can be to make sure you have the sequence of your talk in order. Another can be about working on movement patterns, fine tuning emotional / mental focus etc.
When you rehearse, make sure you are breathing deeply.
When you rehearse, make sure you are actually thinking about what you are saying (not just reciting it by rote.)
Once you are well rehearsed (meaning you can get through your whole presentation without stumbling or relying on the crutches of notes or powerpoint), have someone videotape your presentation. Look for repetitive movements, false sounding vocal inflections and anything that keeps you from connecting with your audience and message.
Don't wait until the day before your presentation to begin to rehearse. Set up a regular rehearsal schedule several weeks from your big event. With practice you will need less rehearsal time, but don't succumb to arrogance and think that you are an 'old hand' who doesn't need to rehearse. Your audience deserves your best, not just a regurgitation of an old schtick.
The Power of Self-Talk
Self-talk is that stream of babble that most of us have going through our minds without our noticing. For many of us, it is pre-dominantly negative. Part of your rehearsal is to observe your self-talk. Root out anything that shuts you up or puts you down. Give yourself the gift of coaching yourself with clarity and kindness. This is not to say you are falsely supportive of your work if you know it is second rate, only that you are not unduly critical of your own worth.
Have faith in who you are, what you have accomplished and the unique message you bring.
Stage your Presentation
Too many speakers use repetitive meaningless movements on stage that detract rather than add to their message. Moving about constantly may feel energizing to you, but it can put your audience into a bit of a trance. Standing stock still as if you have a rod up your spine is about as interesting as watching rush hour traffic. Don’t be afraid to use the space you've been given. Remember that pictures speak louder than words.
Begin this process by walking through your talk in rehearsal. Trust your gut. Finding the movment that best serves your message is more ‘felt’ than analytically discovered.
Use upstage, downstage, stage-left, stage-right. Use different levels, perhaps sometimes sitting on a stool, standing etc. Play with it. Trust yourself.
A great Shakespearean actor once said, “Move only when movement improves upon stillness"
Take a risk. Be Bold. Really put yourself out there. Let yourself use all of your gifts; your knowledge, your opinions, your personality - in short, who you are.
Stay connected with your vision and why you are there.
Stay connected to your audience. Look at them. Listen to them with your eyes.
Watch trying to figure out what they are thinking and feeling. As one of my teachers said: "Your job is to fully share with them your message. It’s none of your business what they think of you."