#1 Tip to Conquer Your Speaking Nerves

by Shari Graydon

shari keynote presentationHere’s my number one tip for controlling speaking nerves: Arrive at the venue the night before. 

It’s usually not practical, but that’s my preferred time frame.

Forty-five minutes is the minimum. Doing so gives you more control over circumstances that can send even very experienced speakers into elevated stress mode.

When I arrived at a rented workshop venue in Winnipeg recently, the room was perfectly arranged – for a 1950s high school classroom. So I reorganized the furniture, transforming the neat rows facing forward into a u-shaped configuration that allowed all participants to see each other as well as me.

In corporate boardrooms, I’ve discovered the screen set up at the opposite end of the table to the computer control system. I don’t know who decided this was a good idea, but I work to reconfigure it so I can see my laptop, and the audience can see me AND the slides, not one or the other.

Also, because I am 5’ 3” tall, the chances of me disappearing behind the average-sized lectern is high.

But if I arrive at the hotel ballroom early enough, I can usually enlist someone’s help in finding me a small riser. This gives me the extra six inches required for my actual face to be seen by those in the front row.

Plus, it’s always a smart move to make friends with the tech crew. I learn their names, shake their hands, and express appreciation for their superior adapter that will guarantee my laptop speaks to their system.

I stand at the lectern, figure out where I’m going to plug in my laptop and put my water bottle, and work to make the room feel familiar. And if I don’t have that luxury the night before, I often ask the event organizers to send me a photo in advance.

Because doing so affords you the opportunity to vividly imagine yourself calmly walking to the microphone… Smiling warmly at the assembled audience members as you survey the room… Delivering the first two minutes of your remarks while maintaining eye contact to secure that magic sense of connection… And watching them smile and nod, laugh and lean in…

I know this from decades of experience: visualization is a super-power. Your body does not always know the difference between a real and a vividly-imagined event. (That’s why your heart races watching a thriller and why injured athletes step up their mental training when they’re off the field in rehab.)

A lot of prep goes into crafting, rehearsing and delivering a standing-O-worthy keynote. What you do in the final 24 hours – or 45 minutes – before taking the stage can make or break your performance.

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