I love speaking and doing standup. I’ve performed in front of audiences of thousands and wowed them, and groups of less than a dozen people, and done just as well. But I didn’t start out that way. I learned by trial and error. And I learned some valuable techniques that I now use in any and every public speaking situation. You can use these tips and probably save yourself some of the growing pains I experienced.
When I started doing standup, I sought the advice of comics I admired. I asked them how to be a better performer. Most comics told me to simply keep getting up on stage. And they were right – there’s no teacher like stage time. But I needed more. I needed to learn how to achieve consistency. At that point in my progress, it was always a roll of the dice: some nights my set would kill, other nights I’d bomb. I longed to find out what magical ingredient would carry the day.
Some comics threw out buzz phrases I’ve seen in books about public speaking, specifically, “Be confident,” and “Present yourself without fear.” I would accept their sage advice with a dutiful nod, and scuttle off to a corner to stifle the frustration I felt over how to actually arrive at a state of confidence or fearlessness in front of an audience.
After years of doing standup every night, I learned some solid, evidenced-based methods that work for me and will work for anyone if put into practice consistently. I divide these tips into two categories: Internal and External. I’m going to cover some the External, or mechanical ones here.
There are a number of ways to arrive at confidence externally, that is, to use your physical aspect to arrive at a psychological steadiness; a feeling of ease and competence while speaking in front of an audience. At the very least, these tips will help you create the illusion of confidence till the real thing arrives. Here are a few examples:
Smile. When you’re rehearsing, each time you anticipate the upcoming presentation, and on stage. A recent study found that the smiling – simply using the muscles involved – sends a message to the brain that improves mood. In other words, look happy and you’ll be happier. So slap that smile on your face and “act as if.” You’ll get there. And your audience will automatically find it easier to like you. That’s half the battle!
Assume a confident stance. Stand up straight, throw your shoulders back, never, ever look down at the floor. Confident posture projects confidence to your audience and to yourself as you begin speaking. Soon you “grow into it,” as the audience responds to your projection, you realize you actually feel confident. If you want to triumph, assume a warrior’s stance – with your weight evenly distributed and both feet planted. Never shift your weight to one foot or the other.
Make eye contact. Or at least create the illusion that you are making eye contact. Don’t look out in the distance and zone out. Make friends with the audience, or even with one member.
Always move toward the audience, never allow yourself to back away. That sends a signal of retreat. Always advance.
Use your body on stage to express your enthusiasm and energy. If you can find a place to do this without looking nuts, then before you go on stage, run in place or stretch. This can help you to loosen up your muscles so you appear more relaxed. It can also establish a flow of energy to channel nervousness. Use strong gestures. Never clasp or wring your hands, better to talk with them. Let your hands get into the act. Avoid nervous pacing.
Pause before you begin to speak, and to emphasize points. It makes you look like you’ve got it together and have no doubt that things will go well. Good standup comics know to wait after a punchline till all the laughs die down, so you positively ooze confidence. So pause, breathe, and move on to the next point.
Practice any or all of these methods and I think you’ll notice a difference. Keep on practicing them and you’ll not only excel, but you will pick up additional techniques and strategies of your own. Lead with the body and the mind will follow. Fake it till you make it.