Before I gave my first from-a-stage talk, I was thinking:
“This sucks. I’m all stressed out. Can’t have fun like everyone else because I’m worried about my talking. I’m never doing one of these again.”
Afterward, I thought:
“Holy crap that was awesome I need to do a million more of these.”
Here’s are 7 things that helped me have fun and not totally screw this up:
1) Improv classes + Karaoke nights = Stage presence
A few years back, I took improv classes at the Madcap Theater.
At the time, it was something fun to do. And I figured it’d help me be more outgoing at bars so I’d have an easier time meeting pretty girls.
But I think it did a lot to help me feel comfortable on stage.
The classes were a blast. And after 4 weeks, we put on a show for friends and family. (Though I’m pretty sure I was too scared to actually invite any of mine. So I did a show for other people’s friends.)
It was good practice because you get on stage terrified, with no clue what to say, but learn to trust yourself/what you learned. And things turn out delightful.
If you can do that, getting on stage when you actually know what you’re saying doesn’t seem so bad.
The thing is, being relaxed and comfortable in front of people didn’t come easy.
I remember having to give talks in front of the class in college a few times.
I was always super nervous. My whole body was tense. My hands and voice would shake. And I would get through it in a monotone because I just wanted it to be over.
That fear of being in front of people started to break in my early 20’s when I started practicing the ancient Japanese art of karaoke.
The first time I did it, even after several adult beverages, I was tight and stiff.
But I kept going back. Because that bar was the closest. And the songs I chose were better than what other people sing. (Yet-another rendition of “Creep” by Radiohead puts everyone to sleep. “Under the Sea” however brings the house down.”)
I never had a great singing voice. But learned you can make up for that with wild enthusiasm. (This works for dancing, too. You don’t need to be good. Just have more fun and wiggle aggressively and people go “wow!”)
So kareoke got the ball rolling with no longer being terrified in front of crowds.
And improv took it to the next level.
So I was more comfortable up there than I expected. Instead of standing still and shaking I was able to walk around the stage and flail my arms a bit.
Afterward a few experienced speakers said I had good stage presence.
Which I credit to improv and kareoke.
2) Touch things
Before the talk, during a break, I walked around the room touching all the walls and other various things.
I’ve seen top copywriter Parris Lampropolous do this before his talks. So I figured: “Eh, why not try it?”
It’s kind of like how dogs pee on everything to mark their territory.
Doing this helps you feel more ownership of the room.
Not sure I understand it or can explain it. But it helps.
Also to help with that “ownership” feeling, I got on stage during one of the breaks.
I just hung out up there and looked at the sea of tables, and even chatted with copywriter Alix Penning.
This way, when I got on stage it would feel normal. It’s just a place I hang out sometimes and talk to people. Not this new scary thing.
3) Have people tell you that you suck
Two weeks before the talk, I submitted the first version of my talk to my group in Kevin Rogers mastermind.
Abbey Woodcock, who has a track record of giving incredible talks, gave advice like: “How do you want people to feel? What do you want them to do when it’s over?”
Ooohhhh. I hadn’t thought of that. Guess I should focus on the the impact I want to have. Not just “Does this cluster of words sound good together?”
So I completely redid it with her advice in mind.
The second version felt solid.
But I was still afraid nobody would care.
It’s not like anyone walked into that conference thinking, “Gee, I hope someone talks about the finer points of creating case studies!”
So I relied on my mastermind friends again.
I read my speech to Avatar specialist Allison Carpio.
She said the content was good. And maybe she was just being nice. But the important thing was believing my content was good gave me more confidence.
And it’s better to get on stage thinking your material rocks than thinking it sucks. That way you get swagger. And you can at least be entertaining while talking about stuff nobody cares about. As opposed to being all scared and apologetic while talking about stuff nobody cares about.
4) Calming the nerves
While practicing my talk with Allison, every now and then I forgot the words.
To me, that meant I didn’t practice enough.
But she said, “If you’re forgetting the words it’s because you need to relax more.”
I think she was right. Because it reminded me of something Bill Murray apparently said:
So as my talk got closer and I started to get nervous, I’d remind myself about this.
I knew that material. I just needed to relax and enjoy myself.
One thing that helped with this was visualizations.
When that “Oh crap, everyone’s hate this” fear snuck in, I’d redirect my thoughts.
And instead, imagine the audience giving me a standing ovation.
That helped shift things internally. I’d immediately feel lighter and more relaxed.
Though I had to do it a bunch of times. Because the fear and nerves kept sneaking up and punching me in the face when I wasn’t looking.
5) Pause for dramatic effect
Near the end of my talk, I totally forgot what I was going to say.
Instead of calling attention to it, I just kind of sat their frozen.
Kevin Rogers told me to do that. Because the video team would cut around it.
Afterward, nobody mentioned it. Maybe they were just being nice.
Or maybe that pause seemed way longer to me than it did to them.
Maybe they didn’t know why I was pausing.
Maybe to them, I was just trying to think of the best way to phrase something.
Maybe it added more drama and intrigue.
Or maybe, to them, it’s okay if the speaker forgets what they were saying for a few seconds. I mean, we’re cool if we’re cool if our friends lose their train of thought and need a sec to get it back.
Maybe all that “Oh no I forgot what I was saying now my career is ruined and everyone will hate me” fear was all in my head.
I didn’t rehearse my talk formally all that much.
I only finished it like 4 days before the event. And was too busy at the event to practice.
But the day of the talk, I went into crazy-guy-on-the-subway mode.
While other people were on the stage talking, I repeated it over and over.
During breaks, I ran off to practice.
And I wrote down the main talking points and brought them on stage with me in case I forgot everything. (I’d rather look like an amatuer with notes than freeze, forget everything, and walk off halfway through with my tail between my legs because I blanked on everything.)
I’m sure there are much, much better ways to prepare. And next time I’ll use them.
Just sharing what I did so you can do something better. And be like “Well, I’ve done more to memorize my speech than Brian did. And he got by okay. So I’m probably fine.”
7) You don’t die.
The minute I got off the stage I was like, “Wait, that was it? I want to do more!”
All those nerves beforehand just made the release that much better.
I didn’t die.
I didn’t destroy my reputation.
I didn’t turn into a quivering ball
Originally, my goal was just to get through it.
But now that it’s over, I want to be good at it.
There were times on stage I thought I’d get a laugh or some kind of reaction from the audience. But I got nothing.
And as I was talking to the void, I’d wonder: “Is this landing? Does anyone care?”
So next time, I want more engagement.
I want to get the audience involved. Hear from them. Tell stories that make them cry and jokes that make their face hurt from laughing.
Because if I’m going to be on the stage, may as well have fun with it. And make it as enjoyable for me as possible. Which will come from making it more enjoyable for them.