You’re presenting in front of a group of (important) people and within just a few seconds, you’re having an out-of-body experience and see all your preparation and composure floating away from you like a kid losing a balloon.
Coming from someone who has lost several “balloons,” I wanted to share a few strategies to help you avoid a total freak-out during your next speaking event.
THE VISUALIZATION TECHNIQUE
No, this doesn’t involve picturing your audience in their skivvies. Visualization is a powerful means of preparation. When researchers studied mice and their dreams, they found that mice visualize their way out of mazes and store that information in their brains in a very detailed way. When the mice were running the maze during the day, researchers would spray the mice with a compressed air duster at certain points in the maze. Much like humans, mice store mental maps of their surroundings while they sleep. Researchers timed the dreams of the mice and found activity in the pain centers in their brains around the point at which they were startled by the air.
The next day when the mice were placed in the same maze, they took new routes, having memorized where they experienced the bursts of air.
When you’re practicing your speech and find yourself stumbling at certain points, map out a better way and visualize yourself successfully going over those obstacles. Visualize your speech from start to finish. This includes your routine before, during, and after your speech. Make memorable markers along the way to move you through the motions. This can include starting your speech off with a personal story, fact, question, etc. A few minutes later, give yourself another marker – perhaps it’s an exercise for the audience, perhaps it’s a change of scenery moving to another side of the room. You choose your markers and let them navigate you through your maze of nerves.
Even sports broadcasters sometimes bite the dust and we can’t get over why. We know they’re well-paid and knowledgeable because those jobs are not easy to get. So why do they freak out? It’s not because they didn’t research properly or know their stuff — it’s simply because they didn’t visualize what it would look like when they went live. Practicing in front of a camera and grumpy cameraman out on the field makes all the difference. Even college football teams that are competing in championship games at pro-stadiums use this visualization technique. Although they practice all week elsewhere, they will have a practice at the stadium with all the lights and speakers on so the players can adjust to how it will feel on gameday.
You can do the same. Visit the venue the day before if possible. If not, just try to sneak your way in a little early and go up on the stage or wherever you need to be, even if it’s just for a few seconds. You’ll cross one unfamiliar variable off your list and be that much more comfortable when it’s go-time.
BRING YOUR BACKUP PLAN(S)
You can’t predict how someone will react to you, especially if you haven’t been given much information about the audience that’s showing up. Hopefully, you’ve had time before your speech to meet-and-greet a few people to suss them out, but if that’s not a guarantee, it is much better to have a few variations of a presentation than just one. Give yourself a few “outs.”
For example, if you plan on giving a speech about how to start a business, and load it down with statistics and graphs on how much it costs to start a business, employee retention, industry facts, and then you find your audience staring down at their phones, it’s time for your backup plan. When you’re preparing your presentation, throw in a few videos, personal photos, and anecdotes you can skip over or go straight to if you feel like your crowd needs to switch gears. Who knows, perhaps you prepared to be Mr. Funny Guy or Gal and got there to find a serious crowd of notetakers ready for some knowledge bombs. So, what’s your standard line for covering up your tracks on the fact that you brought a backup plan? “Oh, we might not have time for that today, so let me skip to this next part.” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Backup plans will seriously save you from “losing your balloons” on stage.
A MAJOR HACK TO DOING A PAINLESS Q&A
If you’re reading this and know you really should do a Q&A at the end of your talk but you can’t imagine anything more painful than something you may not be prepared for, listen up. This is the easiest way to do a Q&A and your audience will be thanking you too. Because let’s be real, who really wants to raise their hand and put themselves in the spotlight?
At the beginning of your talk, let your audience know that you’ll save some time at the end for their questions. Have them write their questions and email addresses on a slip of paper.
Yes, why didn’t you think of that before? Introverts unite, my friend.
You can cherry-pick the questions you are prepared to answer and any that you are not, you can connect with that person offline for “a more in-depth answer.” <– Another cover-up line to protect your secrets.
Now that you’re armed with a few strategies to keep you from ugly-crying during your next speaking event, you might want to start practicing your mic drop.