A Naked Audience?
By Mark Heaps
So you’ve got to speak. Onstage. In front of a large group of people. It could be a group of tens, hundreds, or even thousands. Are your hands getting clammy? Many people get nervous about presenting in front of a group, but force themselves through the event, while ultimately being tortured by the whole experience.
It feels like I’ve been onstage my entire life, in one way or another. Teaching and lecturing, theater groups, talent shows, live music, corporate meetings… hmmm, I’m noticing that maybe I’m addicted to the spotlight! I was terrified my first time onstage, especially as a musician. I remember wearing clothes that hid my face and I walking around the stage looking downward.
So what can you do to overcome the fear? Follow what is, in my opinion, the most cliched piece of advice:
“Imagine everyone in the audience naked.”
Are you kidding me?!?!? Why would I want to imagine standing in front of a large group of naked people? Just thinking of that makes me shudder. I mean seriously what if you are presenting to a group of engineers? No offense, but I can’t imagine presenting to Steve Wozniak as he stares at me in the nude! Steve, I love you, but…
The point of this advice is to lighten your focus, relieve your stress, and allow you to relax into the moment. The secret is, there’s no secret–the key is preparation and rehearsal. Here’s some techniques I’ve been shown over the years to help me obtain focus and be more relaxed onstage.
1) Build a set list!
Musicians do it, actors do it, future presidents of America do it! For a presentation your set list can be a list of the key points you are trying to check off in your deck. Memorize those first, in the order you’ve designed within your deck. And memorize them the way you memorize directions−only focus on the point-to-point it takes to get somewhere. The in-between elements will fill themselves in more naturally as your mind leads to the next point. This will really help you flow in your storytelling.
2) Backwards and Blindfolded!
My theater professor in college would say this to us constantly. My favorite technique for learning a script is in a dark room, when all I can hear is the sound of my voice. This allows me to focus solely on what I’m saying. Without other visual stimulus, your mind will start forcing visuals to happen in your imagination… you’re now training your mind’s eye to support you, instead of distract you. Have you ever tried sitting in a dark room and keeping your mind blank? It’s not easy. Use this technique to help focus your thoughts. The other great thing about this technique is you become familiar with the way your voice sounds. Most people don’t like their voice on a recording. In a blank space, without distraction, you can really hear where you give inflection.
3) Stage it!
If possible, try to expose yourself to the event beforehand. I like to visit a stage or room I’ll be presenting in early and walk around and see how the room “feels”. Once, I presented on a squeaky stage, and felt like I was trying to avoid landmines as I spoke. I was distracted by the noises and completely ignored my audience’s reactions to highs and lows of my commentary. I laugh now, but had I discovered this early I could have probably made jokes about the stage and made it a part of the show.
So what about all of you? What are some of the difficulties you have before a presentation? What are some of the fears you have had to overcome, or want to overcome?