Let’s face it; public speaking sucks. To get up in front of a group and extemporize is many people’s worst fear. What if I trip and fall? What if no one listens to me? What if I say something stupid and they all laugh? Scary, no?
Anyone who performs in any capacity has to deal with stage fright. Your mouth gets dry, your fingers tremble and your knees quake. Your guts twist in a knot and you feel like you did when someone told on you in third grade and the scary teacher’s cat’s-eye glasses skewered you to the wall.
Writers have to speak sometimes. They speak in front of groups, in interviews, teach classes or lead seminars, participate in Career Day activities, and of course, read their own work. If you are a shy person unaccustomed to public speaking you may be paralyzed.
You’ll be fine.
Mostly, the people you will be talking to will want to hear what you have to say. Even if they don’t, act as if they do. There’s an old saying: fake it ’til you make it. A famous skating choreographer, Ricky Harris, told us when we attended a class she taught at our rink, “If you smile like you mean it, pretty soon you will mean it.” She’s right. People will be more amenable to you if you smile at them, and some might even smile back.
I’ve been performing since I was five, so I have an advantage over someone who may never have even sung in the church choir. I still have moments where the Jitterbug gets hold of me, mostly when I’m in a class and have to go to the board, or right before I skate a show or a test. The tricks of the trade are these:
- Take deep breaths. Try the technique I told you about in Freak Out, Baby! Slowly in through the nose, out through the mouth.
- Be prepared. Make sure before you arrive at your engagement that your notes are in order, you have the right piece you’re supposed to present, and any handouts are included. You might want to read your piece aloud to yourself, your family, the cat, etc. so you’re comfortable with your material and any words whose pronunciation is unfamiliar. Double-check if you’re unsure. Usually online dictionaries have a pronunciation feature; just click on it and a voice will say the word.
Pronunciation, you say? Wouldn’t I know the words I used? Well, I once said “succumb [suh-KUHM]” as “soo-cyoom” and sent my mother into gales of laughter. Okay, she didn’t actually laugh at me but it was still embarrassing. I knew what it meant and how to spell it, but I had no earthly clue how it was pronounced.
- If you’re doing a PowerPoint presentation, get there early and make sure all the equipment you’ll need is set up and ready. Cables, computers, screens, etc. It’s convenient to carry a presentation on a flash drive if you’re not using your laptop. Wear it on a lanyard so it won’t get lost if you’re traveling.
- Smile at everyone! If you get a chance, say hello to them as they are being seated. Sometimes you won’t get to until you actually take the stage. In that case, begin with a smile and a friendly greeting, like “Hello, it’s very nice to see you all here today. Thank you for coming.”
- An old stage trick is to look out just above the heads of the audience. Everyone will think you are looking at them in particular, especially if you don’t stare blankly right down the middle. Some lecturers like to look directly at random audience members and smile warmly as they are speaking. You can practice this; if it’s too scary, don’t worry about it.
- If you don’t have a microphone, remember to project, so that people sitting in the back can hear you. Take in air deeply from your diaphragm, and intensify your voice so it travels out from your body and through the room. Don’t shout or force it. Imagine your voice rising on a column of air that goes up until it reaches your mouth, and through a megaphone as it leaves you. Still confused? See if you can get a theatrical friend to help you with this.
Remember to relax and not fret before your appearance. There are websites all about public speaking, and you can get help from anyone you know who does it. Take a speech class or ask a friend to pretend to interview you. The Jitterbug thrives in the dark, moist caverns of fear deep inside your mind. Drag him kicking and screaming into the light, and like most creatures of the night he will self-destruct.
If you have any hints or tips on dealing with the Jitterbug, please share them in the comments.