7 last-minute prep tips for speakers

Long-term preparation of your presentation is essential, of course, but the minutes and even seconds before you stride out to face the audience are just as important.

What do you do just before you take the stage?

I’m often asked about how to get ready for a presentation. I say, prepare a great speech, rehearse the content and body language, and work on your unconscious mental state, but all that should take place in the weeks-even months-running up to a speech.

What about in the moments before a speech? Is there anything you can do to get ready, increase your chances for success, and give yourself an extra jolt of charisma before you go out on stage? Following are seven last-minute prep tricks to try:

1. Talk to yourself. Self-talk is sometimes maligned as too “woo-hoo,” but it is effective. The bad news is that follow-up research has shown Amy Cuddy’s power poses to be ineffective. So it isn’t enough just to stand tall; you also have to think tall, and that’s where self-talk comes in. Find and repeat a positive mantra. It will keep the negative thoughts away, and that will increase your confidence.

2. Poll audience members outside the speaking venue. Some people—introverts, mainly—do better to focus alone in the green room. For others, chatting up your future audience beforehand can help ground you, keep you from working up a big head of fear, create positive energy and help you identify familiar faces when you do get to the stage. It’s not for everyone, but it is helpful for those who get charged up by talking to people.

3. Create a positive vibe. If a positive mantra is too much for you to stomach, then take a picture of someone you love into the green room with you and focus on that person before you start. Spouse, friend, kids-whoever is significant in your life and automatically makes you feel good and loving. The result will increase your warmth just before you go on, and you’ll carry some of that on stage with you.

4. Forgive someone you don’t like or something bad that happened. This tip is crucial. When you’re full of adrenaline, you tend to need to vent, and I’ve seen way too many speakers unload on the sound guy, or the PA, or the lighting person because of some small screw-up beforehand. So channel your inner Buddha, and fill yourself with anticipatory compassion. You don’t want to walk out on stage furious at someone, because you’ll inevitably transfer that anger to the audience. So unless you’re Donald Trump or you’re making anger work for you deliberately, let go of the anger and play nice with all those who helped you get there.

5. Let go of your ego. While we’re letting go, another great thing to let go of is your ego. Make your presentation about your message and about your audience, not about your self-love. I’ve always said that the Zen insight of public speaking is that the speech is not about you—because if the audience doesn’t get it, the speech hasn’t happened. So focus on the audience, the message, the cause. The only reason to give a speech is to change the world, not to make yourself feel special.

6. Interact with the audience. The difference between an OK speech and a great speech is often the audience’s sense that the speaker really listened to them. A presentation is a conversation-or it should be in this authentic age. Treat it like one; listen to the audience. Go in with the attitude that you’re going to learn something from them. That half-second beat of listening will connect you with the audience in a surprisingly powerful way.

7. Smile. Smiling shifts your vocal cords around, enhances your volume and creates a warmer sound. It can even make you feel better. So put a big grin on your face, and go get ’em!

A version of this article originally appeared on Public Words.


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