Are you familiar with the feeling? Your heart pounds, your mouth feels dry and you start sweating. In an air-conditioned room. The MC has just announced your name and the audience is clapping enthusiastically as they wait for you to get up onto the stage. Instead of getting ready to speak, you feel as if you should just flee the scene.
Like a condemned man whose time is up, you shuffle forward in extra slow motion. Questions are bouncing around frantically in your head. What at all was I thinking when I agreed to speak at this function? What if I don’t perform well? Can I face this crowd? What if they don’t like me?
A few years ago, I had the pleasure of emceeing the Grand Finale of the Springboard Road Show in Kumasi, Ghana. Before the event, I took part in a ‘Power Mentoring’ session with a couple of young people who wanted some pointers on career advancement and public speaking. A common concern was the question of nerves and how to summon enough courage to face a crowd.
Let me share with you the tips I gave those young people I met in Kumasi. To recall them easily, just think of the word SMILE. Every letter stands for a particular method. Use them together and you will have a solid system for fighting nerves when you speak in public.
First of all, recognize that feeling nervous about speaking or any other important task is a perfectly normal reaction. Even the most experienced people feel like this. Some have been known to even throw up.
The trick is to channel your nervousness into a productive output. Or to put it in another way, you may feel like you have butterflies in your stomach but the important thing is to make them fly in formation. But how do you do this?
S for "See"
It is important to prepare your mind for success long before you get onto the stage. Visualizing a positive ending will give you a sense of control and imbue you with confidence.
So hear the audience clapping warmly in appreciation of your speech. Imagine the other speakers congratulating you on a job well done. Feel the sense of pride you get from knowing that you have performed to the best of your ability. Repeat this visualization exercise just before you speak - it will help you take care of those nerves.
M for "Meet"
A good way to face the crowd is to meet them before you speak. This means arriving at the venue early enough to mingle with the audience before the event actually begins.
Smile, go up to an audience member and introduce yourself. Tell the person you are glad they came and assure them of a good time. Repeat the process for at least 5 other guests.
When you do eventually get on the stage and scan the audience, you will recognize the familiar faces of people you met earlier. Suddenly the audience is no longer one mass of strangers. You ‘know’ some of them and that knowledge will help you get rid of your nerves. After all your ‘friends’ are in the audience and they are expecting you to do well. Why worry?
I is for "Introduce"
Imagine you attend a relationship seminar and a speaker opens her talk like this: “I am about to tell you the two words that are absolutely needed to make your spouse happy.” Would you get up and leave? Or would you stay to find out what those two words are?
The first words that come out of your mouth should make your audience want to listen further. If that happens, good news - you have hooked them. If your initial words elicit a feeling of disinterest or boredom, you may tense up and get nervous.
The way to control your nerves when you start speaking is to plan your introduction with care. It should be relevant, even thought-provoking if you want. Memorize it and deliver your lines with passion. Research has shown that audiences remember the beginning and end of a speech better than the body so treat the conclusion of your talk in similar fashion.
L is for "Look"
Look at your audience when you are speaking and you can beat your nervousness. Most people will not know you are shy if you look them in the eye when you are talking to them. Here is how to do it.
Scan the audience and locate your new friends from the ‘meet and greet’ zone. Imitate the action of a windscreen wiper and let your gaze sweep the room in an arc from left to right. If you did your ‘meet and greet’ well, those people seated around your new friends will get the impression that you are also connecting visually with them. They will most likely smile at you. Please smile back. You are facing the crowd, not out of nervousness but with confidence.
E is for "Enjoy"
As a speaker, take note of the following points:
Be serious about your preparation but don’t take yourself too seriously.
If you stumble over certain parts of your speech, don’t worry – try to laugh it off and keep going.
Engage your listeners – ask them questions.
Your awareness of your audience and yourself will enable you to relax and enjoy the speech without leaving any room for nerves.
So there you have it.
Those are your 5 SMILE pointers to help you face any crowd – SEE yourself succeed, MEET the audience, INTRODUCE your talk, LOOK at the audience and ENJOY yourself.
Keep in mind that you have to practice constantly and then put the tips into action often. Nervousness is a natural phenomenon for speakers but you can control it and face any crowd with confidence if you remember to SMILE!
You can do it!