10 Tricks Before Speaking on Stage

I can remember the sensation like it was yesterday as I prepared to give my first big speech in front of my junior high class. The intense pounding of my heart against my chest nearly knocked me to my feet. I chugged bottle after bottle of water, but still was unable to quench my thirst. I felt weak and nauseated and no matter how hard I tried to stop shaking, I could not seem to calm myself down.

I could not understand what was happening to me….

In school I was always an outgoing and friendly person and the fact that I had such stage fright was something that did not go in line with my personality. In small groups of people I came alive, but the moment I was I was asked to get in front of the class, where all eyes were on me, I completely froze, without being able to make out a single word.

I felt completely alone in my fear of public speaking, thinking that maybe there was just something wrong with me. However, I learned over the years that I couldn’t be further from the truth.

I was not alone. 

In fact, I have spoken to hundreds of people throughout the years about their fears and anxieties and more than half of them tend to mention public speaking as one of their main ones.

Believe it or not, even after years of getting on stage, I still continue to have the fear. However, I made a promise to myself to never let fear hold me back and to always take action steps daily to tackle and overcome this beast.

I went from having a panic attack just from the pure thought of getting on stage, to now speaking to audiences of 2000+ in both English in Spanish. I was invited to speak at the largest TEDx conference in Spain, in my second language, one that I did not even know 2 years before my talk.

I understand from experience the anxieties and fears that come along with public speaking. Given that it is so familiar to me and its something that I still have to confront before getting on stage until this day, I decided to write an article on 10 things you can do before getting on stage (right before your speaking engagement) to get your nerves under control so that you can give the best speech that you possibly can.

These are tips that I personally use and I believe can be helpful tools in preparing you for your next talk.

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1. EXERCISE

Movement is the drug that keeps me sane before a big speaking event. In my case, right before a speaking engagement, I have my mind filled different emotions: excitement, nerves and anxiety. It’s almost physically impossible for me to sit still the day of my speech, and especially minutes before getting on stage.

On event days, I always start the day off with some sort of cardio exercise in order to burn off some of that stored up energy that I have within, which sometimes can get out of control.

Even if it’s just 20 minutes, this helps my mind to get into a more peaceful and focused state, while helping me to keep my nerves and anxiety under control.

Minutes before my speech, I like to do some form of exercise, whether that is walking, jumping or stretching. When our nerves are at their peak, it’s important to not let our body tense up and become stiff.

Find a form of movement that works good with you and do it before getting on stage. Work to keep your body flexible and open even as you step in the spotlight. This relaxed posture will help you in coming across as a more confident speaker.

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2. STAY HYDRATED

Sometimes it seems like no matter how much water I drink before a speaking engagement I just can’t seem to feel hydrated enough. Staying hydrated before an event is key to reducing dry mouth and an itchy throat.

Keep in my mind that drinks, such as coffee, soda or alcohol can be dehydrating and interfere with your speech. If you deal with any sort of stage fright it’s especially important to limit your caffeine intake. Your nerves, mixed with caffeine, can cause more anxiety, restlessness, a pounding heart rate and excessive trembling.

It’s important to stay hydrated, but to not feel over hydrated. Too much liquids, mixed with the nerves might give you a constant sensation of needing to urinate.

Don’t be afraid to take a bottle of water with you on stage. If you feel like your mouth is notably dry and it’s interfering with your speech, take a breath, grab a sip of water and continue.

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3. DEEP BREATHING

Breathing seems like the most obvious piece of advice, but yet so many of us forget to breathe deeply before and during our speech. Short, shallow breaths tend to leave us feeling winded and exhausted, while deep, long breaths help us to find our balance and allows oxygen to get to our brain, which enables clear thinking.

Breathing allows you to regain your focus and slow you down, which is necessary, especially for fast speakers like myself. One exercise that I like to do before going on stage is a breathing in for 3 seconds, holding it in, and then releasing it (along with a small body stretch).

Training our body to breathe, slow down and to not panic is something that does not happen over night. This is something that can be practiced on and off the stag. Like anything, and the more you do it, the more second nature it becomes.

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4. VISUALIZATION

Visualization is one of my main secrets to overcoming anxiety and can be an excellent tool for anyone if used correctly. Having the opportunity to inspire others is a very gratifying experience, so before going on stage I like to feel the end gratification even before it happens.

I love to close my eyes and imagine the satisfying feeling that I will have after facing my fear and giving a great speech. I visualize the audience clapping, telling me good job and the lives that are going to be moved because of my story.

It’s so important to believe in your own story and feel in your heart that the message your are delivering to your audience is valuable and worth their time.

If you believe in your message with all of your heart then it will be easier to visualize a positive and gratifying ending.

However, I have spoken to people that say that visualizing puts pressure on them, causing them to visualize bad possible scenarios that could happen during the speech, such as going blank, saying something wrong etc. In the case for some people, the best idea is to just stay in the present moment and not visualize future outcomes.

What works for one person might not work for the next, so find what works best for you and practice that each time.

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5. VISIT THE STAGE

There is a huge difference in my anxiety level when I feel familiar with the area in which I am speaking beforehand, compared to an odd place that I have never seen before in my life. Any chance that I get to visit the stage where I will be speaking before my event,  I hop right on it. I love to get familiar with the stage, walk around and visualize myself there with an audience of people.

If I have some time I like to rehearse different parts of the speech, especially the opening and closing, while implementing my silences, breaks and body movements.

During my first TEDx conference I was unable to visit the event site the day before. However, I arrived early the day of the event and spent at least 30 minutes walking across the stage, getting a feel for it and imagining a successful talk.

It was my first time ever to do a talk in Spanish and I believe that this short time familiarizing myself on stage beforehand was a key tool in the success of my talk.

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6. SOCIALIZE

Every event is unique and runs on a different time table. Some allow for socializing beforehand, while some save that special time for the end. If the option in available, take time and socialize before it is your time to get on stage.

I have always found that walking around, introducing myself and connecting a bit with others beforehand always helps me to connect with my audience even more during my talk.

When you personally take time to meet and greet people that are attending the event, you get a more friendly feeling and sense of connectedness with them.

When I get on stage and look out into the audience and see familiar faces, I automatically feel more at ease and relaxed, as if I am talking to friends, and not just an audience of distant strangers.

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7. CREATE A POSITIVE ENVIRONMENT FOR YOURSELF

If you are organized, then your speaking day should not be stressful and chaotic. It’s important to create a positive space for yourself the night before and the morning of your speaking engagement.

Creating a stress free, positive environment for yourself might include

  • Waking up early in order to get some exercise and meditate.
  • Preparing everything the night before (outfit, electronics, cameras etc)
  • Arriving at least an hour before your event in order to avoid feeling rushed.

IMPORTANT: If possibly, delegate the responsibility of your PowerPoint  and technical issues to someone else.

As a speaker, you have enough on our hands as it is. Your focus should not be on technical issues, but but rather focusing and preparing for your speech and then presenting it.

In some cases it might be your responsibility to deal with setting up your powerpoint, etc. If you have this responsibility, it’s important to have everything prepared beforehand and to think ahead for things that could possibly go wrong and to have a quick solution to fix it.

Technical issues are very common and I have seen in multiple occasions, including in very organized and large events, problems where no matter what they did, the powerpoint just would not work. 

It’s important to prepare and to not depend solely on your powerpoint to get by. Feeling comfortable with your speech, just in case your powerpoint does fail, can help you to go on stage with ease, knowing that no matter what happens, you will know what to say and when to say it.

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8. TONGUE TWISTERS

Tongue twisters are excellent ways to warm up your voice and ease the tension you might be feeling before getting on stage. It helps to bring you into the present moment and focuses your mind on the task at hand, which is trying to say a difficult phrase.

It’s a small action that one can take that most might not even think of, but it really can work!

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9. KICK PERFECTIONISM TO THE CURB

Perfectionism is a huge barrier that stands between many people and their life long dreams. Being a perfectionist has the ability to delay you from getting on stage and can easily send you into a negative spiral, feeling a constant feeling dissatisfaction and unhappiness.

If you are constantly thinking about giving the perfect speech, with the perfect jokes and the perfect everything, you will set yourself up for failure and burn out.

Keep in mind that it’s OK to make mistakes. In fact, most people claim that they prefer a more authentic speaker, rather than one that seems flawless and perfect in everything.

Speak from the heart and don’t let your perfectionism get in the way of giving a heartfelt message

Keep your purpose and mission in mind before and during your talk and kick perfectionism to the curb. If you keep your focus in the center of your being, then you are more likely to capture the heart of your audience and succeed.

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10. SMILE

Smiling has been scientifically proven to have multiple positive health effects in our body, even if it’s forced.

Forcing a smile can help you to feel better by releasing endorphins and serotonin into your blood. Cultures from all over the world practice smiling meditation in order to generate happy feelings and emotions in our body.

So the next time you feel like your heart is about to jump out of your chest due to fear and nerves, try a simple smile and see what happens.

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And most importantly……

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RELAX AND ENJOY IT ALL!!

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One of the worst things that could happen in your career as a public speaker is to let stress get the best of you to where you don’t even enjoy the process of speaking and getting on stage.

Public speaking and having the opportunity to inspire and share your story is an opportunity of a lifetime. We must learn to enjoy the process, embrace the fear and realize that its all part of the experience.

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Don’t forget to also check out:

THE ONE THING THAT YOU SHOULD NEVER TRAVEL WITHOUT

DISCOVERING THE BEAUTIFUL ISLAND OF SAO TOME & PRINCIPE, AFRICA

7 GESTURES YOU MIGHT WANT TO AVOID IN OTHER COUNTRIES

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