You’re minutes away from giving a speech.
You’ve been pretty calm all morning, but now as the minutes tick closer, you feel the anxiety starting to make its way from your stomach all the way to chest.
You pretend that you’re cool on the outside, but beads of sweat start to appear on your forehead and on the palms of your hands. Your throat starts feeling dry and you can’t seem to sit or stand still.
Don’t worry, you’re just starting to freak out. It’s normal. It’s part of being a performer of any kind.
My best advice about how to not freak out while giving a speech… let yourself freak out beforehand.
That’s right. Let yourself feel freaked out and terrified before you go on.
Let’s take a step back for a moment and look at the reasons why you freak out in front of an audience.
It’s not normal to have lots of pairs of eyes on you. In the animal kingdom, if two creatures gaze at each other for too long, it usually means they want to mate with or kill each other. Neither is a casual thing.
You probably don’t realize it, but this set of cartoon eyes looking at you has heightened your awareness. That’s because the direct attention of another human being is actually somewhat disconcerting. We go into a different mode of behavior when we know we’re being watched. We become more rigid, more deliberate and we have more anxiety.
So, when you are going to give a speech, you can multiply the small amount of anxiety you feel from the eyes above by ten, fifty or one hundred, depending on the size of the crowd. This larger amount of direct attention is what is causing a physical reaction in your body.
The big message here is that the ‘freaking out’ that you experience before giving a speech is normal. In any other fight or flight situation, we would run, shout, or act out in some way. But before a speech we all try to act calm and collected.
When we try to hide or mask the fear, the fear gets multiplied and forces itself to the surface. By the time we get on stage, we’ve suppressed it so much that it takes over and makes us freak out in front of the audience.
What I suggest is the opposite. Let the fear completely flow through you. Feel it, let it totally take over your body for a few minutes before you go on.
When you fully experience the fear before you go on stage, it has already somewhat passed through you. Fear that has passed through you doesn’t stay around.
Fear before a speech is normal and it’s not going to go away completely. If you are reasonably new at public speaking, your body is not used to the increased attention and will go into fight and flight mode.
The big trick I’ve learned from giving hundreds of speeches is that if you let the fear flow through you, and you let yourself sweat, shake, move and generally freak out before the show, by the time you go on stage, you’ve lost most of your adrenaline.
When this passes, then you are ready to give your speech in a calmer, smoother and more enjoyable frame of mind.