5 strategies for impactful speeches without any stage fright

Lars Sudmann

© Lars Sudmann

Zur deutschen Version

Speaking in front of a big audience? Facing the public, probably to be criticized?

Almost fifty percent of adults feel their pulse getting faster when they are in the center of attention at a job presentation or when everybody looks at them giving an informal speech at a family party. They catch what is called "stage fright" or they have an even more serious fear of speaking and they would like to escape. For many people it is a nightmare to speak in front of an audience.

For me it was and is completely different. It is my dream that pushes me into my best and strongest condition. Standing on a big stage, transmitting my thoughts and ideas, discussing with people, leading change and even being paid for doing this – this was and is my vision. This may sound strange and frightening to many of you, but even when I had caught the stage fright, it was always with a positive kind of excitement when I had the opportunity to give a speech. Somehow this was always a part of me, and already a long time ago I realized that I would like to turn this thrill into my profession.

Five strategies helped me to get prepared for the job of my dreams, and you can use them whenever you have to accomplish a performance in contact with other people – the strategies work, if you are a singer or an actor, but also if you are working in sales or service.

1. Stage time, stage time, stage time
Darren Lacroix is a comedian who became world champion in rhetorics. Once he was asked about the secret of his successful speeches and he answered: “Stage time, stage time, stage time.” His recipe for development was that he spoke for every kind of audience that “didn't make it to escape fast enough into the woods” as you may say.

In this context the author Malcolm Gladwell talks about the 10.000-hours-rule. This means, you can be outstandingly good in everything that you practiced in the right way for more than 10.000 hours. So, before the big success, you have to work hard for a long time to improve your skills and you have to use every opportunity to gain more and more experience.

2. Look for the competition
I am a member of an organization called Toastmasters International. In this organization that was founded more than 90 years ago, people from all over the world get together to improve their speaking ability and to overcome their fears. In many cities there are local clubs where people meet and practice.

It is an especially thrilling moment when you win the championship in rhetoric of your own club for the very first time. After winning, you get two weeks to improve your speech even further, and then you have to repeat it. Going into the details of a speech this way is wonderful, as speaking process is not static anymore like e.g. at a wedding when you get prepared once and when the process is over after you gave your speech. It is completely different when you have to think over your speech again and again and when you get the chance to go on improving the content and yourself in this dynamic process.

3. How to overcome your fear with the help of focus groups
Every artist, every speaker, everybody who creates something knows them: The questions you are facing before completing your work. Will people like it? We all have our doubts and our fears, but we can reduce them, e.g. with the help of focus groups. Create something – a song or a speech – and then introduce it to a small, safe group of people. Do not just present it in your imagination or in front of the mirror! Go out and share your idea with a group of three to six people! This sounds like a logical step on the way from the world of your inner thoughts to the big audience. But far too often this step is skipped. Don't make this mistake, but strengthen your confidence – from your mind to the interaction with a small group of people!

4. Dominate the three key words of communication
Here I offer you a little “formula” that helped me immensely to be successful with my speeches. The three key words are: “Main message – main fact – main example”.

Whenever you communicate, check all three of these elements. Only then your reasoning will be complete. One example: You could say: You should stop smoking. Well, so far, so good. Everybody knows it. But now add facts to this main message, e.g. the number of people who die from lung cancer in every year. And the communication will be completed with the main example that in 1983 even the comic hero Lucky Luke stopped smoking because of the giant risks and that he has a stalk of grass in his mouth since then. Maybe all of the single details will be forgotten. But the audience will remember the three key components as a combination.

5. Outsmart your brain and breathe away your fears
In spite of all preparation you will get nervous in the most important moment. If you feel uncomfortable, take a deep breath into your belly ten times. It is just as simple as it sounds and it is highly effective. This strategy breaks the cycle of your worries and keeps your brain busy with something else - for it will stop imagining all kinds of possible problems and horrible scenes, so that you can fully focus on your speech.

Good luck!

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