Delivery Strategy

A Naked Audience?

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.

On Stage...
Onstage...

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?

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  • Arrive early, at least 90 minutes if not a couple hours. Not only do you have time to familiarize yourself with your presentation space, as Mark mentioned in #3, but you’ll have time to set up your technology and not worry about technical glitches cutting into your time. It gives you time to mingle with the crowd as well, which will help you feel more comfortable during the presentation.

  • Arrive early, at least 90 minutes if not a couple hours. Not only do you have time to familiarize yourself with your presentation space, as Mark mentioned in #3, but you’ll have time to set up your technology and not worry about technical glitches cutting into your time. It gives you time to mingle with the crowd as well, which will help you feel more comfortable during the presentation.

  • Doug

    I thought we were supposed to imagine ourselves naked… No wonder it never seemed to help me. 🙂

  • Doug

    I thought we were supposed to imagine ourselves naked… No wonder it never seemed to help me. 🙂

  • A big one for me was not looking at relaxed faces and presuming that they were bored.

    I just presume people are fascinated unless they clearly indicate that they aren’t… 🙂

  • A big one for me was not looking at relaxed faces and presuming that they were bored.

    I just presume people are fascinated unless they clearly indicate that they aren’t… 🙂

  • Simon

    Ive just taken a job as a trainer, and although I have some presentation experience, I still get the “fear”.

    Not entirely convinced about the naked approach, although I liked the tips above.

    Anyone got good links to other resources to help overcome the nerves and concentrate on the pleasure of actually teaching people?

  • Simon

    Ive just taken a job as a trainer, and although I have some presentation experience, I still get the “fear”.

    Not entirely convinced about the naked approach, although I liked the tips above.

    Anyone got good links to other resources to help overcome the nerves and concentrate on the pleasure of actually teaching people?

  • Some tips that work for me:

    1) Don’t try to stop being nervous. Accept your fear, and carry on anyway. (This also works for climbing – check out http://www.warriorsway.com/ )

    2) Concentrate on your breathing, before and during the presentation. It really does make a difference.

    3) Don’t let yourself gabble. Consciously slow down, and leave (long-feeling!) pauses to allow points to land.

    4) If you can, interact with your audience. This helps a lot with the blank faces problem, and they’ll get more out of it too.

    5) Make one point per slide, and forgive yourself if you forget something – no one else knows.

    6) Consider learning the first 2 minutes of your talk by heart, if you’re nervous.

    7) Never, EVER, apologise. For anything.

    8) Take the time to remember what it feels like when you finish a great presentation. Use that memory, when you feel 10 feet tall and capable of anything, next time you feel nervous.

  • Some tips that work for me:

    1) Don’t try to stop being nervous. Accept your fear, and carry on anyway. (This also works for climbing – check out http://www.warriorsway.com/ )

    2) Concentrate on your breathing, before and during the presentation. It really does make a difference.

    3) Don’t let yourself gabble. Consciously slow down, and leave (long-feeling!) pauses to allow points to land.

    4) If you can, interact with your audience. This helps a lot with the blank faces problem, and they’ll get more out of it too.

    5) Make one point per slide, and forgive yourself if you forget something – no one else knows.

    6) Consider learning the first 2 minutes of your talk by heart, if you’re nervous.

    7) Never, EVER, apologise. For anything.

    8) Take the time to remember what it feels like when you finish a great presentation. Use that memory, when you feel 10 feet tall and capable of anything, next time you feel nervous.

  • Great advice, Mark! Lots of good comments, too.

    In my own experiences, the fear is a good thing. It’s a sure sign that I’m invested in the presentation. If I’m not scared, than the result probably doesn’t matter to me very much, and I shouldn’t be giving the presentation!

    But Andrew’s comment reminded me of something that’s helped me:

    One of my mentors taught me that it was my job (as trainer/presenter/whatever) to push the entire train up the hill by myself for at least the first half of the presentation. In other words, it was MY job to be exciting, engaging, passionate, etc. and the audience would be whatever they were being.

    If I did my job right, at some point we’d reach the top of the hill together, and the audience would do most of the work for the rest of the presentation and I could relax a bit more.

    It helped with my nerves not to expect too much from the audience at the beginning — Why aren’t they laughing at my jokes? Why aren’t they asking questions? — and just do my 100% anyway. Rather than look to the audience for immediate feedback about how I was doing, I’d try to just block out the nerves and go for it…

  • Great advice, Mark! Lots of good comments, too.

    In my own experiences, the fear is a good thing. It’s a sure sign that I’m invested in the presentation. If I’m not scared, than the result probably doesn’t matter to me very much, and I shouldn’t be giving the presentation!

    But Andrew’s comment reminded me of something that’s helped me:

    One of my mentors taught me that it was my job (as trainer/presenter/whatever) to push the entire train up the hill by myself for at least the first half of the presentation. In other words, it was MY job to be exciting, engaging, passionate, etc. and the audience would be whatever they were being.

    If I did my job right, at some point we’d reach the top of the hill together, and the audience would do most of the work for the rest of the presentation and I could relax a bit more.

    It helped with my nerves not to expect too much from the audience at the beginning — Why aren’t they laughing at my jokes? Why aren’t they asking questions? — and just do my 100% anyway. Rather than look to the audience for immediate feedback about how I was doing, I’d try to just block out the nerves and go for it…

  • Mark Heaps

    Wow great commentary everyone. Let me respond to a few things…

    Jon: Absolutely you are correct! Technical glitches can be the biggest cause for you getting stressed, losing focus, and swaying from all your personal preparation. Any time you can give yourself time to arrive early and confirm the tech/av team is there and all is well will be worth it’s weight in gold.

    Andrew: I know exactly what you mean. I have had so many presentations where I’ve come off stage thinking I failed because people looked bored. But, a great performer friend of mine once said to me…”Mark, you can’t pick your audience but you can choose your performance”. From that day forward I’ve apologized for nothing I’ve done on stage.

    Simon: One of the greatest assets I felt helped me learn to love teaching was follow up. In some cases I’ve done questionnaires after an event to asking for the audience opinion. Nothing ever felt better then watching students graduate, or seeing them get jobs years later. Look for the results of small successes where you had a part to play in their accomplishment. Checking in with students and seeing the growth really helps you believe in what you teach.

    Stephen: Great advice! I am a big fan of learning to control your breathing. I think if you can do that you will be better on so many of the points you mention. Relaxed presenters tend to not ramble on, they tend to speak more clearly. Thanks for sharing those tips, they were great!

    Doug: I’m not sure if imagining myself naked would have ever helped either…yikes, I’d feel sorry for that audience.

  • Mark Heaps

    Wow great commentary everyone. Let me respond to a few things…

    Jon: Absolutely you are correct! Technical glitches can be the biggest cause for you getting stressed, losing focus, and swaying from all your personal preparation. Any time you can give yourself time to arrive early and confirm the tech/av team is there and all is well will be worth it’s weight in gold.

    Andrew: I know exactly what you mean. I have had so many presentations where I’ve come off stage thinking I failed because people looked bored. But, a great performer friend of mine once said to me…”Mark, you can’t pick your audience but you can choose your performance”. From that day forward I’ve apologized for nothing I’ve done on stage.

    Simon: One of the greatest assets I felt helped me learn to love teaching was follow up. In some cases I’ve done questionnaires after an event to asking for the audience opinion. Nothing ever felt better then watching students graduate, or seeing them get jobs years later. Look for the results of small successes where you had a part to play in their accomplishment. Checking in with students and seeing the growth really helps you believe in what you teach.

    Stephen: Great advice! I am a big fan of learning to control your breathing. I think if you can do that you will be better on so many of the points you mention. Relaxed presenters tend to not ramble on, they tend to speak more clearly. Thanks for sharing those tips, they were great!

    Doug: I’m not sure if imagining myself naked would have ever helped either…yikes, I’d feel sorry for that audience.

  • ade

    I’m glad I read this post and all the fine comments to go with it!

    I personally like to arrive the venue early and I tell myself that no human is perfect so I shouldn’t expect perfection. This help me to relax and I end of giving a presentation that people find interesting.

    Preparation is key! But we should also not expect perfection either from ourselves, our equipments etc.

  • ade

    I’m glad I read this post and all the fine comments to go with it!

    I personally like to arrive the venue early and I tell myself that no human is perfect so I shouldn’t expect perfection. This help me to relax and I end of giving a presentation that people find interesting.

    Preparation is key! But we should also not expect perfection either from ourselves, our equipments etc.

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