Over the past few blogs, we’ve unpacked some of the most important aspects of public speaking. Now that you have a better understanding of how to form a persuasive message, it’s time to get on stage. But many of us, myself included, have one final hurdle to jump: stage fright. Here’s the thing: stage fright isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s natural. I argue that stage fright is a necessary part of speaking, and that removing it doesn’t make your speech better. In fact, channeling that fright into the right energy is what makes your speech better.
Stage presence is essential. What do I mean by this? Stage presence is more than just standing there on stage. It’s the way you command the attention of your audience. It’s how you carry yourself. By projecting confidence, even if it doesn’t come naturally, you will convince the audience and, ultimately, yourself, that you belong there.
What does it take to command the stage? To start, your voice. Make sure that you are delivering in a strong, confident voice. Your audience will make a snap decision about your legitimacy as a speaker based upon the way you speak. One way to improve your presentation is voice control: make certain that you are breathing deep, including the diaphragm. Your voice is a muscle, and it should be exercised as such. Practice, practice, practice.
To ensure the best results, consider these six qualities of the voice:
Volume. Your audience needs to hear you.
Clarity. Your audience needs to understand you.
Tone. Your audience needs to know the sentiment.
Emphasis. Your audience needs to know what’s important.
Pacing. Your audience needs to be able to keep up with your speech.
Pause. Your audience needs to know when to reflect and where to anticipate.
Speak clearly, speak confidently, and remember to breathe.
Too many focus on the vocal side of speaking and think that’s all there is to it. But to become a truly great speaker, you will need to master a few more things.
Facial expressions are a sometimes subconscious way to telegraph our emotions to others. By learning the various emotions your face conveys, you can be sure that your audience knows exactly what your message means. The seven main emotions we express through the face are:
Think through how these different faces look. Grab a mirror, and spend some time deciding how each looks on your face, and more importantly, when to use them in your speeches.
Once comfortable with facial expressions, move onto eye contact. When you’re on stage, let the audience know that the speech is for them. By staring at your notes, or looking down, you exude a lack of confidence. Furthermore, if you have more than one person in the audience, be sure to vary the direction you look. Don’t glue your eyes to one person; rather, look at various people in the room and let all of the attendees know that you see them and are speaking to them directly.
Starting off strong is a great way to build confidence. When you begin, don’t reference your notes. You most likely start by introducing yourself and the topic on which you are speaking. Exude confidence by jumping right into it, since you know these two pieces of your speech by heart. If you don’t know your name or speech topic, we may have other issues.
Finally, in terms of facial expressions, you want to smile as often as possible. Let the audience know you are happy to be there, and happy to be sharing the message you’ve worked so hard to compile. All of this practice is paying off! Be glad, and invite the audience to smile as well. As the speaker, you are leading the environment. Take the initiative and the audience will follow.
That’s not to say that you should exaggerate your features to achieve an effect on stage. Remember, at the end of the day you need to be yourself. Becoming comfortable with yourself really is a key to starting this entire process. If you aren’t comfortable in your own skin, it will be hard for the audience to get on board.
The next step is body gestures. You don’t want to stand on stage like a rock, immobile and with your hands plopped beside you the whole time. While the face may be the easiest way to tell how someone feels, there’s far more surface area with the rest of the body. You will need to consider the way you stand, how you hold your arms and hands, and the way you walk around the stage.
Head movements are one consideration. Remember, you want to make eye contact with your audience. You also want to nod for emphasis (lead the audience to agree with you), and use hand gestures to achieve this as well. For example, in listing multiple parts, try raising your finger as you go through the various parts: one, two, three. Sometimes, motioning with your hands or making shapes to reiterate your point can go a long way for the audience. Just remember, all things in moderation.
Your posture is also important. Don’t slouch. The way you stand on stage says just as much about your confidence as the timbre of your voice. Your posture might display that you’d rather be somewhere else, or are nervous about being on stage. Stand up straight and project confidence onstage!
More than just how you stand on stage, it’s how you navigate the stage that makes your performance stand out. Now, that doesn’t mean you should pace around the stage just because it’s there. You might come across as confused to the audience, as if you don’t know what you’re up there for. You want to have a plan going into your presentation as to how you hope to utilize the space around you. As with all the above tips, think about this prior to your presentation and practice it, ideally on the actual stage if you can.
Again, be deliberate. Don’t walk around aimlessly, because the audience will take it to mean you aren’t sure of your purpose. Standing in different parts of the stage is a great way to visually break up the parts of your speech, signaling to the audience that you are moving the story forward. Being confident on stage shows that you’re confident with the material. That’s how you get people on board with your message.
So, we’ve walked through stage fright and how you need to channel it, improving your voice and breath control, being cognizant of facial expressions and body gestures, and finally the use of stage. With these tips, you’re ready to take on your next speaking engagement with confidence and poise.