Learn How to Confidently Take the Stage
There are some among us who can walk onto a stage, smiling, calm, and deliver a knockout speech. The stuff that you see in movies. Some people just seem born with confidence and grace. The rest of us are told to imagine our audience naked… For those of you who’d prefer not to mentally undress your colleagues and peers (I include myself in this cohort), here are five tricks to fake confidence in front of a crowd.
Prepare, prepare, prepare
There is nothing that gives you a better sense of calm than knowing what you’re talking about. You might be an expert on the topic, but you still need to prepare by thinking carefully about the specifics of what you’ll be speaking about to achieve the purpose of this talk. Use your preparation time to think through what information needs to be included to present the most compelling message, which depends on what you’re wanting to achieve by sharing your thoughts with others.
Make the decision beforehand about what you can cut if needs be; there might be more audience questions than you anticipated, or it might take you longer to contextualise the presentation than you had planned. There’s nothing quite as panic-inducing as watching the clock tick your time away and knowing that you’ve still got three ideas left to cover. So, know what you can cut to buy yourself some time while keeping the integrity of your message intact.
Then, when preparing for the session, ensure that you select the most relevant material for your audience. Which leads us to –
Know your audience
I’ve done many presentations over the years; some to senior managers and board members, others to groups of high school students. Before every presentation, I think carefully about my audience; what are they likely to respond well to, how should I pitch the presentation, who will be my “friendly faces” in the room that I can look to if things get hairy? This means that when I walk into the room, there are generally no surprises, nothing to throw me off my game.
It’s also useful to remember Michelle Obama’s advice here: some of the most powerful people in the world just aren’t as smart as you think they are. Don’t be intimidated by your audience; you’re the one presenting to them. Sure, they might be smart, but probably not as smart as you suspect. And you, you have much more to add than you think.
Whether it’s an in-person or virtual presentation, get yourself to the venue at least ten minutes beforehand, and be ready. Rushing in, finding parking, or hassling to connect to wi-fi, causes unnecessary and completely avoidable stress. If you have time to settle in before the presentation, you appear far more calm and in control, and that will immediately put you and your audience at ease.
Remember, no one can see you sweat
This is a lesson I learnt many years ago as a high school drama student. There were a number of times on stage where the lines I thought I know backwards suddenly muddled, where a flash of panic blinded me to the other actors. But, as massively present as those feelings and fumbles felt to me, it didn’t show.
No one in the audience can feel your sweaty palms, and I promise you, even if you believe that your legs are shaking hard enough to shift the earth underneath you; no one in the audience can feel those reverberations through their body.
There’s a great quote by Dr Suess that I like to remind myself of when I get nervous before a big presentation.
Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you! – Dr Suess
The quote reminds me to be myself. If you spend mental energy focusing on being someone that you’re not, that’s mental energy that you aren’t spending on projecting confidence.
Remember: You’ve been invited into the space, to do that presentation/talk/panel discussion/whatever, on the basis of who you are and what you have to offer. You, as you, are the value-add in the room. When you can believe that, then the confidence will flow through you like lightning!
Jen is an entrepreneur, an expert in the young talent space, and an all-round enthusiast! Her career has been spent working alongside young people – upskilling them and supporting them to make meaningful career decisions. She’s a writer, a speaker, a disruptor, and a fresh mom.