You’re in front of a large audience. You feel a bead of sweat slide down your temple and you’re hoping no one else can see it. Then, your hands start shaking … sound familiar? We’ve all been there. If you’ve ever spoken to an audience of 1 to 1,000 people you’ve felt performance jitters. And that is O.K. It happens to the best of us!
Here, I’ve outlined six strategies that you can practice and keep in your back pocket for when the stage shakes try to crash your public speaking party.
1. Make a fist…and release
When you’re on stage, in an interview or in the boardroom, clench and release your fists. Do this one to three times to mitigate the shakiness. To be more discreet about it, hide it in a hand gesture. If you go this route, be sure to practice fist clenching into a gesture so that it does not appear too obvious. Practice in the mirror and pair it with parts of your talk so that the gesture and speech work in tandem.
2. Put the paper down!
Under no circumstance, should you let yourself show up to a talk with a piece of paper in your hand… no matter how tempting. If you are not being asked to give an impromptu speech, then you should be able to prepare (at least an outline) in advance. Once you have your topic, come up with examples and create a simple outline that you can easily remember. The problem with having paper with us during a talk is that we rely on it to the point where it becomes a crutch. Suddenly, instead of giving a talk, you’re reading off your paper instead because you don’t want to miss any of the words on it. Eliminate the risk of reading off your paper and bring a note card at most. The best thing of course is to be reliant only on your memory and speak comfortably. This way, if you do get the stage shakes at least the audience won’t hear it or see it as much as a shaking noisy piece of paper…exacerbating the situation all together.
3. Make sweeping hand gestures
When you make big, sweeping, and theatrical hand gestures, chemicals that increase our confidence are released to our brain. What better way to stop the shakes in their tracks? This is an easy way of adding emphasis to your talk but also calming yourself down. Be sure to make outwardly hand gesture while making a point. Something to work on here would be to select hand gestures that you fancy and practice them with the words so that it appears as natural as possible.
4. Release tension
If appropriate to the topic at hand, try incorporating bigger movement with your body. Say for example you’re giving a talk about your new fitness regimen and new exercises you’ve been sampling then demonstrating squat jumps or split squats would be most apropos. Otherwise, you’ll need to get a bit creative. Adding a bit of theatrics to your talk (when appropriate) can help release the built-up tension from stage fright. If you can seamlessly incorporate the movement the audience will think it was par for the course as opposed to a way to mitigate the nefarious effects of communication apprehension.
5. Poke fun at it
If self-deprecating humor jives with your personality or authentic speaking self, then go for this strategy. Sometimes what’s obvious to you (on stage, in the spotlight) is not obvious to the audience. Feel this one out. If you prefer to come clean about your shaky hands and want the culprit to be coffee — do it! You can jokingly tell the crowd that your overly-caffeinated morning contributed with this hand shakiness, even if it’s purely nerves. Getting a laugh out of the crowd (and yourself) is sometimes enough to jerk the tension out of your hands. Give it a go if you have a sense of humor.
6. Give the audience a task
Lastly, giving the audience a task can help lower your stage fright and abate the shakes. Doing so will help deflect attention from you so that you have a minute to collect yourself. In public speaking it is good practice to make your talk as interactive as possible. Even having the audience do the smallest most menial of tasks (e.g., jump up and down, shake your neighbor’s hand) can make the audience interact and thus pay more attention because they’re invested on a different level. Giving the audience something to do takes the spotlight off of you for a moment so that you can take a breather. Maybe you’re noticing that the energy levels in the room have substantially declined. In which case you might say “Ok it’s time to get the energy going, I want everyone get up and shake it out.” Or you might say: “Alright I know it’s been a long, it’s time to dial the energy to 11. Give me some jumping jacks.” Giving the audience an activity will not only allow you to compose your nerves, but the attendees will prefer to engage as opposed to just listen.
Before the stage shakes strike, practice these six strategies so that you know how to take action should the occasion arise. Above all else, as you’re practicing these techniques be sure to do it in way that honors and reflects your authentic self. That’s my number one rule with effective communication and public speaking. There are many great techniques and strategies, but if they in-authentically represent you, try them out a different way. Hopefully these stop-the-stage-shakes tips work for you. If you have others that you’re sampling, feel free to leave a comment and let other Explearners know!
Happy Explearning 🌠