They say 75% of people these days experience or have some form of stage fright— aka that hard-to-breath moment when you realize you’re about to speak in front of an audience that will judge you with their beaming eyes.
Throughout my life experiences and now as a CEO of a startup, I have done commercial acting, given speeches in front of thousands of students, pitched in front of hundreds of investors, and endure through live interviews in front of thousands of people watching.
Now I’m not saying I’m a master or guru. It’s just that through many experiences that I’ve learned that staying up, memorizing word for word, and not eating before a big talk… is not a good idea. How would I know that? I’ve thrown up a couple times because of these stupid practices.
So after puking and messing up on tons of stage talks, here are the 5 way to conquer stage fright and absolutely nail it in your next talk.
1. Outline Key Points
The first thing to do when you know you have a big speech, presentation, pitch, etc. is to outline the key points you want to discuss. This gives you clarity in your organization. To do so, spill your mind with ideas onto a paper and then narrow it to what you think will be most effective.
You want to ALWAYS organize your key points to make sure you can cover certain requirements and figure out ways to connect them, so your pitch/talk can flow. This is NOT the same as writing down word-for-word what you will be saying in your pitch.
What I always do is jot down key points and add sub-points below them on what I want to discuss about that specific key point. These are no longer than 5 words each. Now you’ve created reference points in your mind that will trigger one after another—which will make your delivery sound much more genuine and actually memorable.
If you decide to write down everything word-for-word you want to say and try memorizing it, I promise you that you will sound like a monotone robot. Humans never memorize conversations, and presentations are a conversation to your audience—so don’t try to memorize. This brings me to my next point.
2. Don’t Memorize a Script
Never memorize. The worst pitches/presentations I’ve seen have been people memorizing their “scripts” to the tee. What usually happens is that the person will start off strong, then approach some memorization trouble, start wandering their eyes to the side to remember, get distracted on what they are delivering, start worrying, freak out, and then giving an awkward “oopsie” smile to the audience wondering if he/she could start over.
Remember that no one knows your script so why should you pressure yourself to memorize it? Unless you’re a genius with a memory of a dolphin, you’re going to forget it and think you need to start over because your audience knows you messed up! Wrong!
If you are going to memorize something (which you should), you should memorize your key points (from above). But how do you memorize them?
3. Create Stories
To best memorize and get your message across confidently, create a story that connects your points together. This is much easier said than done.
What this will do is not only create more meaning for your audience to remember what the heck you said, but more importantly, create references for your own memory.
Creating a story requires meticulous planning, as it makes you carefully piece the puzzle together in your head. It’ll take some time, but it will be the reason why you’ll be excited to present to your audience.
4. Practice & Time Yourself
If you ever hear “practice makes perfect,” this would be the time to believe that it’s true. I will typically give myself at least 1-2 weeks (not including brainstorming) in advance before I need to pitch so I have ample time to know my pitch like it’s normal conversation to me. What I usually do is print out the key points on a paper, carry it everywhere I go, and start formulating sentences with them to create the story. Note that I never write word for word, rather I formulate sentences so I never memorize word for word, rather the point I want to convey.
Practice in front of the mirror, don’t be afraid to talk to yourself while walking throughout your day, and present in front of a few people you can get brutal feedback from.
Lastly, most pitches/presentations have a time limit, so time yourself. This will force you to cut unimportant points if you are taking too long. My recommendation would be to always end 1-3 minutes (depending on how long the limit is) before the time limit. That grace period will account for personal hesitations throughout the presentation and unexpected things happening that distract you. More importantly, it will allow you to relax and let you actually speak with a normal pace instead of someone rushing through a speech.
5. Remember, Audience is on Your Side
One of the MOST important things I tell myself and want to share with you is to know that the audience is on your side. They want you to succeed as much as you do yourself.
Think about the last time you watched an awkward, scared presenter. Their tone is shaking, their hands are sweating, and their eyes are squinting with fear. Did you think in your head… please keep messing up because this is so much fun to watch (unless he’s an asshole and he deserves it)? OR did you think in your head… you got this—act confident and keep going!
The audience wants to see you give a confident, successful presentation. If you remember that presenting to an audience is about conversing and NOT about showing off, you will do just fine.
Last tip: As long as you act confident, your audience will believe you and the presentation will resonate with them.
Just for fun so you know what I’ve been through, here are some videos of me pitching/interviewing/demoing/etc.
Demoing the product:
3 minute pitch competition:
Let me know in the comments below how you’ve combated stage fright before. What other tips did I miss that you practice?