We’ve all experienced the fight, flight or freeze response. It’s an automatic (and autonomic!) reaction to perceived danger that can flood our systems with adrenaline for fighting, send us running for the hills, or make us freeze up and stop breathing.
It’s obvious that not breathing could make it difficult to deliver a presentation; but the flight part of this reaction can also be an issue for public speakers.
Fear of Public Speaking Can Make You Want to Run!!
The pull to run from something scary can feel almost overwhelming. And when that something is a speech that you’re delivering, it’s natural to feel like racing to the end so you can get it over with as quickly as possible.
The catch is, that “natural” reaction is unfair — to you, to your audience, and to your ideas.
So here’s a perspective, and some tips, to help you savor each moment of your speech instead of hurtling toward the finish line.
To Be a Great Public Speaker, Stay in the Present and Savor Your Speech
Just like that proverbial river that you can never step into twice because it’s always different, every moment of public speaking is unique and new.
Even if you’ve spoken on a topic time after time after time after time, you’ve never spoken about it this time.
You’ve never spoken about it in this room, at this hour, in this light, with this group of people, and in this frame of mind.
Likewise, no matter how many times you’ve given a speech, this audience has never heard it before.
Your speech is a unique, irreplaceable event — which means that each moment of it deserves full honors.
To Savor Your Speech, Give Every Moment Its Due
The key to giving proper attention to every moment of your speech is to know what moment you’re in. You may even want to give yourself a play-by-play, like:
I’m presenting my key message… I’m telling a funny story… I’m discussing my second supporting point… I’m getting ready to wrap up… etc.
Focusing on what you’re doing right now counteracts the all-too-common view that your speech is a single, unbroken, endless, exhausting expanse of words that you have to “get through.”
It also gives you, at the end of each section, a natural place to pause, relax, regroup, and start fresh.
Of course, it’s easier to work this plan if you…
To Savor Your Speech, Give It a Clear Structure
Since you don’t want to view your speech as an endless flow of words, don’t create it as one.
Speeches are often constructed by stringing one point after another, until the well of points to be strung together runs dry.
Instead, do yourself a favor and start with something like the Instant Speech framework, so that you can build pauses, repetition, transitions, and clearly defined sections into your speech from the start.
Practice Your Speech in Mixed-Up Sections
Just as creating a speech that has one endless flow will push you toward delivering it that way, so will practicing your speech from beginning to end, from beginning to end, from beginning to end with no variations.
So practice your speech’s individual sections — and then go further and mix them up. I drill my speaker coaching clients like this:
- Tell me the story about your boss
- Now deliver your second supporting point
- Do the section before your close
- OK, now do your attention grabber
- Do your transition from X to Y
- Now do your third supporting point…
Believe me, after enough of that, you can focus on any part of your speech, and you know how each part differs from the others!
Your Audience Will Help You Savor Your Speech
When you finally present this speech, let your audience help you stay focused.
They are reacting to everything you say — and if you free some attention to note that reaction, you’ll find yourself reacting back.
- They’ll smile. You’ll smile.
- They’ll gasp. You’ll nod.
- They’ll look puzzled. You’ll repeat, or elaborate, your point, or even ask if they’re following.
Noticing this dynamic will help you get totally in the moment, relating to both your audience and your speech in a way that’s fresh, authentic, and rejuvenating.
And isn’t that more fun than fight, flight, or freeze?