Beat Stage-Fright with an Audience Centered Attitude

There are many good tactics for beating the fear of public speaking.


Extensive rehearsal helps the most.


Physical exertion can reduce the adrenaline-driven jitters.  Comedian Billy Crystal once said that he did push-ups to deal with stage-fright.


Schmoozing with the audience before the presentation helps you relax.


I’ve used all of these. But here’s a simple approach that most people overlook. Before your speech, say to yourself, “I’m going to go out there and help these people today.”


I use that affirmation all the time when I’m nervous before a speech. It helps me a lot. My clients have found it helpful as well.


Public Speaking Anxiety is Selfish


The affirmation works by requiring a shift in attitude. When you say “I’m going to help these people,” you interrupt the selfish self-talk that accompanies the fear of public speaking.


When you’re waiting for your turn to speak and you’re nervous, your internal dialogue is usually self-centered.


“What is everyone going to think of me?”


“Am I going to screw up?”


“Will I look stupid?”


Short-circuit the self-centered talk


You can short-circuit this self-centered self-talk if you remember that your speech is not about you or for you. It’s about delivering a message to help your listeners. As the speaker, you’re there to help your listeners increase revenues, lower costs, reduce risk, or otherwise gain enlightenment.


The listeners are depending on you.  And if you’re selfishly focused on your nerves, you can’t be there to help them.


Let’s say that you’re speaking to a group of German executives. They have come to hear you detail the key legal issues they should consider as they do business in the United States.  If you’re focused on issues like “What will they think of me?” you can’t be fully there to help them.


Or let’s say that you’re giving a new business presentation to a manufacturing firm to help them with their banking needs. If you believe in your skills and your product, then you believe that you can truly help this company make more money.  But if you’re so wrapped up in your anxiety, then you won’t be able to help them because your pitch will stink.


Don’t ruin it for your audience


A writer once told me about how she was once waiting nervously in the backstage “green room” at CNN. She was going to be interviewed live about her new book.  About ten minutes before the interview, the news anchor checked in on the writer.


“How are you doing?” said the anchor.


“I’m a nervous wreck,” said the writer.


After pausing a moment, the anchor got a determined look in her eye and said, “I need you get over that anxiety. I don’t want you to ruin my show.”


That was the anchor’s harsh way of saying “Stop focusing on yourself and focus on the audience.”


It was like a Cher slapping the love-struck Nicholas Cage in the old movie Moonstruck and saying “Snap out of it.”  Sometimes we need a little tough love.


You can administer tough love to yourself (albeit in a more diplomatic way) by saying “I’m going to do everything I can to help these people today.”

Another Rave Review for “How to Win a Pitch.”

The raves continue to roll in for “How to Win a Pitch: The Five Fundamentals that Will Distinguish You from the Competition.”  The latest review is from sales expert Ian Brodie on his sales blog “Sales Excellence.”

Brodie writes:

This book is one of those rarities that presents a simple framework that “beginners” will be able to understand and use – yet still crams in multiple gems of wisdom and insight that even highly experienced sales people will learn from.

If you get involved in sales pitches and presentations in any way (and if you want to sell big, there’s no doubt you will) – then you must buy this book.


Check Out Guy Kawasaki’s 10-20-30 Rule

Star Venture Capitalist and techno-evangelist Guy Kawasaki hears hundreds of presentations a year. And the ones that he says are the best follow what he calls the 10/20/30 rule. 

Limit your slides to 10.  Limit your time to 20 minutes. And make your fonts no smaller then 30 point.

It’s a guideline all of us should consider. The 10/20/30 rule is ultimately designed to keep the slides limited so that the speaker, her stories, and her ideas remain center stage.   If all you’re doing is narrating and reading slides, you’re in trouble. Here is how the 10/20/30 rule keeps that problem in check.

Limit your slides to 10. Too many slides will kill your presentation and make you seem disorganized.  A client came to us recently with a sales presentation that had 60 slides for a one-hour pitch.  That’s ridiculous.  No listener can process the information on that many slides in such a short period.   Limiting your slides to 10 forces you to be disciplined in what you’re trying to say. Your listeners will appreciate your discipline.

Limit your time to 20 minutes.  By limiting your time, once again you force yourself to be focused on what you really want to say.  You also allow more time for questions.  In most business presentations, the Q&A is the most important thing.  It allows you to respond to the audience’s true interests.

Make Your Fonts No Smaller than 30 Point. This forces you to limit the amount of stuff you cram on to any slide.  Smaller fonts are too small to be read by the audience.