No matter if you’re presenting to a group of three coworkers or a venue full of 3,000 strangers, public speaking can feel akin to going out on the field for the most important game of the season. You’re anxious and hope you don’t screw up, or worse, get hurt.
Just as athletes have their habits and rituals before a big game, presenters should also be sure to prepare so they can put their best foot forward and give an awesome presentation.
Here are some pregame tips for speakers:
When we’re nervous we get cotton mouth and our throats become scratchy and irritated. This makes it incredibly difficult to stand in front of a crowd and speak for twenty minutes or half an hour. It also makes it more than likely your mouth will make annoying smacks and popping sounds into the microphone.
While you don’t want to down a gallon of water before your presentation and then have to hold your bladder the entire time, it is a good idea to begin sipping some water about 15 minutes before “game time.”
Get Excited, Not Freaked Out
Professional athletes know the difference between psyching themselves up and psyching themselves out. They don’t sit in the locker room before a game and worry, “What if I drop the ball? What if I don’t catch the ball? What if I accidentally throw the ball to the opposing team?” No, they think only positive thoughts, “I’m gonna score the most points I’ve ever scored today. I’m gonna run faster than I’ve ever run today. I know I’m gonna have a great game today.”
So many speakers stand behind stage freaking themselves out by thinking of the absolute worst that can happen, “What if I forget what I’m going to say? What if no one listens? What if my PowerPoint presentation won’t play?” This negative self-talk can often turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
So, instead of freaking yourself out, get excited and tell yourself, “I’m gonna do great. The people are going to love my message. This is going to be fun and awesome!”
Avoid Personal Interactions
Athletes have to be 100% focused on the game ahead of them and so do presenters. It’s a bad idea to take personal phone calls or have conversations with loved ones right before your presentation. If you are away on a business trip, schedule call times with your family either well before, or even better, after your presentations to discuss family topics.
Have an Audience Meet and Greet Beforehand
While it’s not a good idea to talk to loved ones before your presentation (you have other things to think about than where Jacob’s lunchbox is or what time you want dinner), it’s a great idea to speak with the audience ahead of time if at all possible.
This does a few important things:
- It lets the audience know you are personable and approachable and instantly makes them “be on your side.”
- It also helps you feel positively about them. How much easier is it to stand in front of familiar faces that are looking at you with recognition and kindness, as opposed to complete and indifferent strangers?
- It offers you a chance to learn names or personal stories that can be woven into your presentation for a greater effect.
Check Out Your Environment
It’s common for athletes to want to walk around the field or court to get to know their environment as best they can. It’s equally important for speakers to check out the venue and audio/visual set up beforehand as well. Take a look at the seating arrangement, the microphone placement and lighting so none of this throws you when you step on that stage.
Assume the Position
Athletes don’t lay about in the locker room eating Doritos before the game, they warm up, stretch, do pushups, whatever they physically have to do to start and end that game with as much energy as they can.
Beyond using the voice, presenters use their body as well, and it’s equally important that you have energy when you take that stage. So don’t sit around for 40 minutes waiting for your turn – get up and either stand or move around starting ten minutes before you go on so you’re warmed up and ready for action.
Yes, you should smile before you go on stage and hold that smile. Smiling has a physiological effect on our body. It emits feel good endorphins, relaxes our muscles, and lowers our blood pressure and heart rate. That alone is something to smile about.
But beyond that, if you carry that smile out on stage with you, you will convey confidence and self-assurance. And, because smiles really are contagious, your audience members will find themselves smiling back at you, releasing their own endorphins.
Public speaking and athletics are more similar than many people would imagine, and you will have an awesome presentation if you follow these pregame tips. However, whether you have someone run up to you after your presentation, smack your bottom, and dump a cooler of ice water over your head is entirely up to you.