What to do if there’s a “so-called” disaster onstage…
I’ve had them all. I’ve had fire engines going right by and staying right in front of the building. I’ve had people… I’ve had a woman go into labor – swear to God – we had to stop the presentation, get the EMR, get… I’ve had it all.
But the one that comes back to me the most: I’m speaking in California, I’m outside. There’s a group of about 200 and bleachers and the sound system fails, and, the backup sound system fails and I tell them, “No problem. I’m an actor. I can speak big.”
And I was doing just great until the El Toro marine base airshow dress rehearsal happened overhead. The jets were going – I mean you couldn’t ignore them, so what did I do – did I pretend they weren’t there? No, I used them. I had fun with them. I pointed up, I spoke in between jets and I had the audience laughing because they knew what was happening.
They knew it wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t a disaster. It was just life. Life is going to happen. If you’re a speaker, use whatever’s happening – even if you think of it is a disaster – but use it. The audience will love you for it. And they’re going to probably go away remembering, “gosh, I can’t believe how well he did when those jets were overhead.”
Most people are concerned about being boring on stage.
And the fact is, most of the time – if you’re talking about something that you care about and you do it with some passion – you’re not going to be boring. But, maybe you’ve been given something at the last minute to throw in or you’re talking about something technical and you notice that the audience is not with you. I mean, they’re looking at their cell phones, they’re gazing out the window, some of them are asleep.
Well, that’s a real signal! And you can do something about it. You can raise your voice. You can move around on stage. You can go into the audience. You can stand by someone who’s using their cell phone. You can do whatever you want to do to try to break that lethargy and get them back. Maybe you’ll ask a question, maybe you’ll give them a break.
Maybe you’ll… whatever you need to do to bring them back – if they’re bored – do it. Don’t let that continue. And maybe you’ll just have to have a lot more energy in the rest of your presentation or maybe you’ll have to have more interactive moments – but you are in charge.
You are in charge, and you can stop that boring moment and turn it into a moment that brings the class and back to you.
Most people feel like they have to make too many points…
… and I often tell people that audiences, if you’re really good, they’re going to have a feeling about you – hopefully a positive feeling – and they are probably going to remember one point, two weeks later.
So the key thing is, to make that one most important point really well. If you have five minutes, focus on connecting to the audience and making your most important point as deeply and as powerfully as you can.
And I would do it by telling a story if I could, or at least a little anecdote because people tend to remember stories and anecdotes and if you tie your point to a story, they’re going to be more likely to remember it. Remember, Gettysburg address three minutes. It’s considered maybe the best speech ever given in America. Three minutes he made his point.
The biggest question I hear is: how do I get over stage fright?
Well, I’ve got two parts to that answer. Let me give you the first one: the most important part is being prepared. If you have really got your content of what you want to say in good shape – you’ve written it, you’ve outlined it (however you do it). You’ve practiced it, you’ve practiced it out loud like Winston Churchill did – he would do 12 hours of out loud preparation for those famous speeches. If you’ve done your homework – you know the subject, it’s well written, you practice it out loud, you know the audience and what they want – then you should have no trouble giving them that.
You’re the expert. You’ve done the work. They’re there to learn from you, to be inspired by you or motivated by you, so if you focus on giving to them and not worrying about being judged by them, just focus on what you can bring to the audience and that will do half the job of getting over stage fright.
And now for part two…
We were talking about stage fright and why it’s such a negative emotion for many speakers. One of the most important things you can remember is that the audience wants to hear what you have to say. That’s why they’re there! They have something to learn from you or or be inspired by you or motivated.
They want you to succeed. And yet, because of our nerves, we forget that and we think we’ve got to be perfect and not make a mistake.
Well, let me tell you, I have been imperfect and made many a mistake – and it has not hurt my presentation. Not at all!
Recently I was speaking to a group and I got a nosebleed 30 seconds before I was introduced! And I went ahead, went out and gave the presentation, told them I was having a little problem. They were on my side. I was more human to them. It was not a problem. I didn’t have to be perfect. I just had to be real and authentic.
So, if you remember that you can go out and be your full, authentic self and give them the gift of your presentation. If you focus on what you have to give, not what they’re gonna think about you, then you’re going to be so successful. I guarantee it.
Most people are terrified…
… at the idea of having to speak off-the-cuff – extemporaneously – to answer a question from the boss, maybe.
And yet, the truth is, if you’re being asked to speak off-the-cuff, it’s because you know something about the subject. You’re almost never going to be asked to talk about something you don’t know anything about.
So, I’m saying that you just need to concentrate on one thing. If you’re asked to speak, think of the most important thing you know about what they’re asking you. Focus on that. Give it to your full effort and then stop. You probably covered it, if you’ve done one thing well.
If they want more, they’re going to ask you for more and then you’ll hit the next point that you know. Almost always we have the answer in us. We just get terrified by, “oh my gosh, how am I going to be perfect?”
Listen, it’s in you. You know the subject. You’re not going to be talking about something you don’t know. Just trust yourself. Be real, and answer the question with the knowledge you already have.
Content or Delivery?
People are always asking which is the most important and my answer is: both!
You can have the best content in the world, but if it’s badly delivered, no one will realize how good it is. And, you can be brilliant at delivering, but if you don’t have coherent thoughts and express them in a way that’s powerful, the best delivery is going to not be as effective.
You must have, first, good content that sounds like you – the way you really talk and gets across your key points. Then, you must deliberate in a way that again, expresses your natural, real, likable, individual personality.
When you put the content and the delivery together, that is a marriage of equals – and it works perfectly.
It is not only a good thing to step away from the podium, but it is a great thing!
Because when you have a podium in between you and your audience, there’s a block – they’re not seeing the full you, they’re just seeing a part of you. But if you step away, and you know the subject and you don’t need notes, well that’s a great thing.
Because the audience realizes you’re just talking to them on-on-one and they connect to you better without the podium.
Now, you can still use a podium on certain occasions, but if you can do without one, it’s a terrific way of connecting with that audience and letting them know it’s the real you.
Talking with your hands.
Well, this is perfect for me because I talk with my hands a lot. It’s never planned. It’s just the way I am. Now, doing what I do right now is normal for me, so it’s OK. I know I’m doing it.
Now, if all of a sudden I was doing these kinds of things (random arm movements) or these things (scratching ear or fiddling with clothing), or doing, you know, all sorts of things that are nervous habits or not normal. That would not be good. That would be a distraction for the audience – whether on a camera or in a group.
But if it’s normal – using your hands the way you really do in life – it’s OK. So, only if you’re doing something unusual and you catch yourself… then, bring it down. And use your hands the way you normally would in life.
Only when you’re doing something you don’t know you’re doing, – whether it’s movement, hand gestures, whatever – only then is it a problem.
One of the key things that most people worry about is rambling when they talk, you know, getting off the subject.
Here is the secret to that: Know what you want to say.
Know ahead of time the one or two key points that you want to get across.
Whether you’ve got two minutes or 20 minutes. There’s still a couple of things you want the audience to remember and if you know those and if you have taken the time to practice those, then you’re much more likely to stay on the subject.
And, if you feel yourself wandering off, you can bring yourself back because audiences don’t remember much. So if you can get across to points and do it in a likable way, you have hit a home run.