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Professional Presentation Pointers: Part Two – Stage Fright

This is the second in a series that discusses what it takes to become skilled in the art of presentation. As I touched on last time, landing an assignment to deliver a speech or presentation can shake the confidence of even the most experienced professional. Does it have to be so threatening? Well, sort of and here’s why.

There are some aspects of presenting that are inherent and, thus, unavoidable. The first is that in general, it is an individual activity. You and you alone will be standing and speaking before a group. All eyes will be on you. The result of this increased scrutiny is that any error has the potential to be more glaring than in other types of speaking. The stakes (for you) are higher and success or failure more meaningful. You will probably feel intimidated and worry about how you will perform. We call this state of anxiety Stage Fright.

Anyone who has ever been on a stage is familiar with the feeling. Your heart races, perspiration increases, hands tremble, mouth goes dry. Even the most skilled and prepared actors and speakers feel it. It’s a natural reaction to a perceived threat and is also known as fight or flight, the survival mechanism that makes us better able to fight off or run away from danger. The powerful chemicals that are instantly released make us stronger, faster and more agile. What is less well known, though, is that fight or flight also makes us quicker witted, better able to think on our feet and make split-second decisions. In a way, it makes us smarter.

The feeling, however, is so unpleasant for most people that they push back against it, ignore it or even chide themselves for having it, which just makes it worse. Skilled speakers know a secret about Stage Fright: It helps make them more animated, more exciting to watch and better at delivering their presentation. So instead of worrying about it, they embrace it.

There is a caveat: Stage Fright works its magic best when you are prepared. Just as someone who is physically fit and experienced would be better able to fight off or flee from danger, so would a presenter who was well-prepared and/or who had experience be much better able to make Stage Fright work positively. The ability to think more quickly on your feet allows you to deal seamlessly with the inevitable things that go wrong in every presentation instead of allowing them to derail you.

Bottom line: Stage fright is your friend. Hard to believe, but true. Its presence simply indicates that you care about your performance. That can’t be bad.

Next post, more on presentations including nonverbal communication techniques, whether or not to memorize, podiums and lecterns and how to spice up a presentation by using stories, humor and other devices.

Copyright 2007 Ruth Sherman.  All Rights Reserved.

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