So, if the anxiety never fully goes away but can be controlled, how do we get there? Control comes with practice and preparation. Try to imagine me at my first state-level speech contest when I couldn’t remember the first line, but I could remember the second line. The couple seconds’ gaffe felt like it lasted a couple of hours. Then, imagine the moment when I had my shot to go to the World Championship Semi-finals, and I repeated a line two minutes into the presentation. In both cases, I actually gave two of the best speeches of my life, after the mistakes, because I knew I had lost the competition and just wanted to do the rest to prove to myself and the audience that I had a good reason to be there.
I had to change my preparation routine. I couldn’t just recite the lines in my car to myself any longer. I had to work on the presentation itself, including my gestures, my stage location, and my pauses. I needed to get out in front of more people. I attempted to contact every Rotary Club, Kiwanis Club, and Lions Club within a thirty-mile radius. I put videos on YouTube and asked for advanced feedback from well-established speakers. I involved my family more; in fact, I have received some of the most critical and useful feedback from my eleven-year-old, thirteen-year-old, and fifteen-year-old children once I asked them to become an active part of the process.
What I found with better preparation and practice was how to be myself. Before, I’d been trying to become an actor, or act like one of my role models. My enhanced preparation techniques and routines taught me to be me. I also found the best way to mitigate the anxiety was to practice as if it was the real presentation every time. This better practice technique was making me more comfortable in my own skin. Personally, I needed to make the speaking process natural. Counter-intuitively, practicing more intensely actually did make me more relaxed and improved my ability to be who I wanted to be on stage.
The following represent key factors to consider within your preparation regimen: (many of which will be explained in detail later).
– Write it out in full, or at least an outline to cover key thoughts
– Either memorize the whole speech or cut down to note cards, but don’t wing it
– When practicing, go through the entire presentation; even when you make mistakes, don’t stop
– Choose your words carefully, taking into consideration the order, the rhythm, and the intended impact
– Clearly mark the points to emphasize and/or repeat; write out your cues
– Practice in front of a mirror, friends, family, and colleagues
– Carefully add impactful physical aspects to the speech (e.g., facial expressions, gestures)
– Increase your presentation practice time and stage time; commit to it and speak frequently
– Get familiar with the setting
– Control what you can control (e.g., lighting, temperature, amplification, table/chair set-up)
– Be a student of yourself: videotape yourself, be open to feedback, play to your strengths, minimize self-caused distractions (e.g., paper shuffling, filler words)
– Use familiar experiences: who knows you better than yourself? Talk about what you know; share your stories.
Thomas B. Dowd III’s books available in softcover, eBook, and audiobook (From Fear to Success only):
- Down the Chute: A Toboggan Tale (children’s book)
- Now What? The Ultimate Graduation Gift for Professional Success
- Time Management Manifesto: Expert Strategies to Create an Effective Work/Life Balance
- Displacement Day: When My Job was Looking for a Job…A Reference Guide to Finding Work
- The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas: Growing from a Cynic to a Professional in the Corporate World
- From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide received the Gold Medal at the 2013 Axiom Business Book Awards in Business Reference
- The Unofficial Guide to Fatherhood