Whether it’s pre-presentation jitters or a full-blown feeling of panic before getting on stage, many speakers at every stage of their careers deal with stagefright in some capacity.
So, how do they overcome it and deliver killer keynote presentations? We tapped into our network to find out.
Here’s what we learned.
Tip 1: Have Faith in Yourself and Your Preparation
No matter how well-prepared you are, there’s still a good chance you’ll feel nervous before you present.
“Even though I’ve done more than 100 speaking gigs, I still get nervous before I go on stage — even if that’s logging on to Zoom to teach a webinar,” Baily shares. “I remind myself that everything I need to know is already in my head, so even if I blank on what I planned to say next, I can always reach back into the library of my brain and pull out something relevant to keep things moving until I remember where I meant to go with the talk. That’s why knowing your story and having your expertise defined ahead of time is so important!”
He explains, “We often experience stage fright because we’re in our heads worrying about remembering our speech, looking bad, and whether the audience will like us. To become a World Class Speaker, you need to learn to transmute the nervous energy you feel into excitement, passion, focus, and care for your audience. I teach my coaching clients to repeat the mantra ‘I’m about to do something of significance’ to themselves before going on stage. This shifts your energy and focus away from you to the collective pain of your audience. It’s only then, that you are able to authentically speak from the heart and make the level of impact that you desire.”
This sentiment is also shared by Mary Ann Faremouth, CPC, President at Faremouth & Company.
Mary Ann explains, “The first step in overcoming any stage fright is to find a comfort zone to settle your nerves . Focus on a space above the crowds and look beyond. You can slay that fear dragon by knowing and trusting who you are and that inner personality take over. It’s not just knowing your part but trusting who you are to overcome that anxiety.”
Tip 2: Learn the Fundamentals of Improv
As a professional speaker, acting and improv probably aren’t even on your radar. But according to Russ Swanger, improv instructor for the corporate world, author, speaker, and the host of Going Boldly with Russ the BIG Guy Podcast, it should be.
“Improv kills stagefright!” Russ exclaims. “Many expert speakers can suggest tools and techniques to make public speaking less stressful. And if you suffer from stage fright, these tips can lessen your anxiety. However, they are not foolproof. But I would suggest that learning improv is. Improvisational acting will teach you the skills to be able to effortlessly handle any situation. This provides a high level of confidence, thus allowing for amazing outcomes from the stage.”
Tip 3: Let Your Nervousness Show
When you get stagefright, your natural instinct is probably to bottle that feeling deep down inside and to hide it from the world.
But according to Dr. Deborah Gilboa, Resilience Expert, Speaker, and Consultant, that’s the opposite of what you should do.
“When a speaker feels heart-pounding, breath-stealing nervousness, there is some good news,” Dr. Gilboa explains. “You can use that reaction to connect with your audience. In addition to the credibility you bring to your content, that struggle with public speaking – by far the most common fear among adults – can allow you to demonstrate authenticity and draw empathy from the people watching you. Take that calming breath you’ve been told to take after you grab the mic. Deliver your powerful opening line, and then make eye contact with a few people, or look around the zoom room. Smile and, in your own words, let them know that you’re nervous to be in front of them but what you have to tell them is too important to let some stage fright keep you away!”
Tip 4: Remember That Everyone’s Rooting for You
When you’re about to go on stage, it can be easy to feel like everyone’s judging you — out to get you, even.
But that’s not the case, and Janice Marie, Training, Facilitator, and Communications Strategist is quick to make this point.
“When you’re feeling nervous, remind yourself that every person in your audience is rooting for you,” says Janice. “They want you to be brilliant. After all, they’re giving you some of their valuable time! Being brilliant isn’t about being perfect or looking good. We’re not there to get their approval, we’re there to give our audience something they need, something they can use…whether it’s information, transformation or a few moments of well-spent time. So, focus on your audience, not on yourself. See them as real people. Trust them. Connect with them. When you do that, you stop feeling nervous and start having fun!”
Tip 5: Just Breathe!
Stagefright can quite literally take your breath away. The simple but sure-fire way to contend with your nerves? According to Jane Atkinson at Speaker Launcher, it’s to just breathe.
“When preparing to go on stage, just breathe,” says Jane. “The reason we can’t remember what to say when we get nervous is that… well, we forget to breathe! Oxygen getting to the brain is essential for clarity. Take ten long, slow, deep breaths before walking out on stage and you’ll be gold.”
Tip 6: Do a Stand-Up Comedy Open Mic Night
Just like improv, doing a stand-up bit may not intuitively strike you as a relevant exercise as a professional speaker. But Andrew Tarvin, CEO at Humor That Works, suggests the contrary.
“This is a tactical tip: do a stand-up open mic,” Andrew says. “I know for some of you that immediately made your stomach drop… but that’s the point. Stand-up is like the weight room for public speaking, plus it can be easy to find an open mic near you — or these days, virtually online. This gives you the much needed reps to become more confident. Plus it’s much better to get over your nerves in front of a room full of amateur comedians who are also working on material than it is to bomb in front of your clients, co-workers, or everyone who showed up to the wedding.”
Tip 7: Actively Engage with Your Audience
Remember that your audience is full of living, breathing people. And, with that in mind, make sure to engage actively with them.
This is how Ruben Gonzalez, four-time Olympian and keynote speaker, approaches his speaking engagements.
“I’m an introvert,” Ruben admits. “But I’ve been able to overcome my fear of public speaking in a few ways that I’d recommend you try. Before your presentation, walk across the front tables and introduce yourself to the audience. They’ll love you for it and will smile at you during your presentation. Also, focus on the audience members who show interest. If someone’s falling asleep or looks bored, don’t take it personally. Maybe their son kept them up all night and they are exhausted. Focus on the people that are getting it and draw energy and excitement from them.”
Tip 8: Use Your Nerves as an Energy Source
Don’t let your nervousness drain you. Instead, make it fuel you. This is what Scott Taylor, The Data Whisperer at MetaMeta Consulting, does.
“Stage fright is your friend,” says Scott. “The more you fight it, the harder it is. Instead, use it as an energy source. Channel that energy into giving you a boost to hit the stage with a strong presence and command the room. Once I realized that it was part of the preparation process, I dealt with it better. I recognized that if I didn’t have some butterflies, then I wasn’t prepared and excited enough. Welcome those last-minute jitters as simply a step in your speaking journey.”
Carolyn Strauss, CSP, agrees.
“There’s a misconception about stage fright,” Carolyn explains. “It’s a natural biological reaction; your heart rate rises, and your breath rate increases as you step out of your comfort zone and do something in front of other humans. Some people misinterpret this surge of adrenaline as ‘fright’ but it’s really just your human body preparing you for the amount of energy it may take to deliver an outcome. Understanding that this is a natural reaction, to overcome this, do your preparation work in advance/rehearse, take deep breaths, say something soothing to yourself, and use that energy to have fun and ride the wave.”
Tip 9: Shift Your Mindset About the Entire Keynote Experience
Commanding the stage requires taking control over your mindset about the keynote experience, according to Jacob Green.
“First of all, you need to shift your mindset about the entire keynote experience,” explains Jacob. “From my very first phone call with the client, I make sure to focus on gratitude, not insecurity. I remind myself that not too long ago, professional keynoting was only a pipedream; something somebody else got to do. The next way to shift your mindset is to ask yourself before you get on stage, ‘What’s the worst that can happen? Will I go to prison?’ Doubtful. ‘Will I get boo’d off the stage?’ Unlikely. I stick with my mantra: ‘I know my lane, I’m grateful for the opportunity, and I can’t wait to make an impact’.”
Next time you’re getting ready to go on-stage, whether in-person or virtually, remember these nine tips. They just might help you reduce your nervousness and deliver an outstanding keynote.
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