“Picture everyone in the audience naked.” Ewwww. Gross. How many times have you heard this advice? Imagining the people in the audience naked is distracting and rude. This is not an instant cure for nervousness. The intention of this advice is to even the playing field. To picture the audience as vulnerable as you are on stage.
This bit of advice has been around since 1970 when Dorothy Sarnoff’s book, Speech Can Change Your Life, claimed that Winston Churchill overcame his fear of speaking by imagining his audience naked. While this may have worked for Churchill, I suggest you find your own tactics to face an audience.
In fact, you can translate your nervousness into energy, passion and animation. All of these attributes make for a very compelling speech. Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac was quoted saying, “If you get stage fright, it never goes away, but then I wonder: is the key to that magical performance because of the fear?”
What can you do to reduce your nervousness?
There is no substitute for experience and practice, which can be difficult to achieve if you have a fear of public speaking. The following are ideas that you can deploy moments before you take the stage.
Wonder Woman Pose
Amy Cuddy, Harvard University researcher and TED Talk sensation, has studied body language and “power poses” at length. In less than two minutes in a power pose, participants have increased their testosterone, which increases confidence and reduces cortisol, which reduces anxiety. A famous power pose is the Wonder Woman, standing with feet shoulder width apart and hands on hips, just like the iconic hero.
Have a Conversation
Find a friendly face and speak directly with them. Pretend that you are at your kitchen table discussing the topic at hand. You are the expert on what you are communicating so you don’t have to be nervous about your content. Once you get rolling, start to talk to other people in the audience.
Use your imagination for something more productive than visualizing the audience naked. Visualize the speech going well. Imagine the audience applauding you at the finish. Pretend the audience is there to see you succeed and that they want you to perform brilliantly. This will help you realize that the audience is your friend not your foe. Use positive thinking to your advantage.
One of my favorite sayings is “Fake it till you make it.” You can “fake it” in so many ways. Smile. Walk onto the stage with command. Dress the part. If you mind goes completely blank (worst fear), make it up. It is okay to not speak word for word. Even if you are reciting lines of a known monologue, most of the audience won’t know, and the ones who do won’t care.
These four tips will help you leverage your nervous energy and turn your presentation into a smash hit.