Have you ever had one of these experiences while speaking in public?
- You forgot what you wanted to say and froze on stage.
- Your computer crashed and you fumbled your way through the presentation.
- An audience member made a comment that threw you off.
- You were asked a question that you couldn’t answer and became flustered.
I’ve seen these things happen time and again to speakers. And I’ve experienced these things because each of them—and more—has happened to me.
For example, I was once speaking to approximately 80 communication professionals on the topic of how to communicate effectively. As you might imagine, I felt the pressure of speaking on a topic to a room full of experts.
At one point during my talk, I showed a slide of me with some children in Kenya when I was doing some work there. It’s a picture that I love and that brings back strong emotions from my experience. I used it to demonstrate the difference in effect when one use a small picture in the corner of a slide versus having the picture fill the entire slide.
One woman in the audience took exception to the image and let out an audible groan and rolled her eyes. At that moment, it felt like the room had gone dark except for where she was sitting. For a good 10 seconds or so, she was the only person I could see. And it took me several minutes to regain my composure and get back into the groove.
Yes, public speaking can be scary.
I felt bad about that presentation for a few days, but then I had another event at which I had to speak and things went well. It was a good lesson on the importance of putting bad experiences behind you so that you can move forward.
I recently came across a much more profound example of this lesson in the story of Ryan Speedo Green. A star baritone in the world of opera, Green sings around the world in four languages. But how he achieved his goal is even more impressive than his voice.
Born into poverty in Virginia, Green lived in a trailer park and low income housing as a child. He had an abusive mother who frequently beat him. One day, he pulled a knife on her and she called the police. Green was sent to a juvenile detention facility where he spent two terrible months, often in solitary confinement. No one could foresee that that troubled young boy would become the thoughtful man in the video below.
No one, that is, except a few people who helped him turn his life around: his teacher, Elizabeth Hughes; Priscilla Piñeiro-Jenkins, a caseworker in the detention centre; and a Virginian psychiatrist.
In an interview on CBS’s 60 Minutes, Green was asked what he would say to his 12-year-old self sitting in solitary confinement in that detention centre. He answered,
I would tell him there are trees and sun beyond these walls. … Don’t let this moment define you. I would, in the words of Elizabeth Hughes [say], don’t let this moment define you. This is not the end. This is only a moment in time. And someday it’ll get better. Someday things will get brighter.
Remember Green’s story the next time things go wrong on stage and you feel like you will never give a good speech or presentation again. Things will get better.
Don’t let this moment define you.
Photo credit (first image): TEDxLTHS / Flickr
I am one of the co-founders of Presentation Guru, a digital magazine for public speaking professionals. This post is part of a series designed to share the great content on Presentation Guru with the Manner of Speaking community.
The Heaths say, “If you want your ideas to be stickier, you’ve got to break someone’s guessing machine and then fix it.” You have to break their pattern of thinking in a way that creates surprise and interest. However, you must do so in a way that is relevant and thoughtful. Being unexpected in a constructive way involves much more than just doing something crazy.
The Heaths continue: “The easiest way to avoid gimmicky surprise and ensure that your unexpected ideas produce insight is to make sure you target an aspect of your audience’s guessing machines that relates to your core message.”
And yet, how often do speakers fall into the same old patterns? A bland opening, going through slide after slide of information, a weak conclusion, asking for questions at the end.
When you speak, break the pattern!
Inspired by Joseph Haydn’s Surprise Symphony, Stephen Welch has written a post to help you break the pattern the next time you have a presentation. He offers concrete advice that you can break the patterns of your audience’s thinking in your presentations. Fittingly, he divides his ideas into the following musical techniques
- Overture – Open your presentation in a creative way
- Key change – Change the tone of your voice at key moments
- Rest bars – The power of the pause
- The instrumental solo – Videos, music and more
- Intermission – Ways to give your audience a break
- Encore – End on a strong note
To learn more about these techniques, please read Stephen’s post.
When I began this series back in 2009 with Quote No. 1, I wasn’t sure that I would find enough quotes to keep it running for long. But time and again, I have come across great quotes, aphorisms, sayings and other pieces of wisdom that have something to offer to public speakers.
I hadn’t thought too much about what I would do for Quote No. 300, but then I came across this trailer for the movie A Star is Born, starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, and I knew this was it. Because this is a milestone, you get the quote and a video.
Hope it inspires you to go out and speak. You’ve got something to say.
“Look, talent comes everywhere. But having something to say and the way to say it so people listen to it, that’s a whole other bag. And unless you get out there and you try to do it, you’ll never know. That’s just the truth.
“If there’s one reason we’re supposed to be here, it’s to say something so people want to hear it. So you gotta grab it. And you don’t apologize, you don’t worry about why they’re listening or how long they’re gonna be listening for, you just tell ’em what you wanna say.”
— Bradley Cooper in A Star is Born
If you give a lot of speeches or presentations, there is a good chance that you have experienced dry mouth (also known as cotton mouth) — that parched, sticky sensation that makes your mouth and throat feel like cracked soil in a drought.
The technical term for dry mouth is xerostomia. It’s a condition in which the salivary glands in your mouth don’t produce enough saliva to keep your mouth wet. There are several causes of xerostomia, some of which are serious. For many people, however, dry mouth is a temporary condition brought on by stress or nerves, something which every public speaker has experienced.
You know the symptoms: a dry, sticky mouth; a sore throat; difficulty swallowing; a heavy pasty tongue. Not fun and, if you are speaking to an audience, not helpful. So what can you do about it?
Here are 10 tips:
1. Drink plenty of water the night before. Yes, you will be going to the washroom more often than usual, but all that water will hydrate your cells.
2. Sip water regularly in the hour or so before you speak to stay hydrated. Be sure to go to the washroom before you take the stage.
3. Chew citrus-flavoured gum or a lozenge before speaking, but don’t forget go spit it out before going on stage!
4. Have water handy on stage so that you can take a sip if necessary. Two important things to remember about water:
(a) It should be room temperature. Cold water constricts the vocal chords.
(b) It should be flat, not sparkling. Bubble have a way of coming back up!
5. Avoid alcohol, caffeine and tobacco before you speak as these substances worsen dry mouth.
6. If you use mouthwash, choose a brand without alcohol.
7. Try an oral rinse that is designed to counteract dry mouth. Such rinses usually contain xylitol, which helps stimulate saliva. I have used this brand and found it works well.
8. Avoid antihistamines and decongestants as they tend to exacerbate dry mouth.
9. Sleep with a humidifier.
10. Prepare well. This will help you feel more confident, which will help you feel less nervous, which in turn will help minimize dry mouth.