In a blog post last week, I discussed a recent study that showed that we leak our stress levels to other people. As I pointed out, if stress is contagious and we leak our emotions, then speakers need to concern themselves with their emotional states before and during their speeches. A stressed-out speaker will induce stress in the audience. Imagine what that does for communication. When we’re stressed, we don’t attend as well, we don’t concentrate as well, and we don’t remember as well.
So you need to get your stress levels under control as a speaker, not just for you, but for your audience. In my post, I discussed three strategies for reducing your stress – and your audience’s – the Tony Robbins method, the method actor method, and the Zen method.
For this post, I’ve combed the anti-stress literature for other ideas. The field is vast – and in fact I found myself getting stressed out over being able to absorb it all in order to write this blog post. But then I got a grip, and here they are – my further suggestions for ways to calm yourself down and have a better time while speaking. Some of them are things you tell yourself, and some of them are things you might do, but they all help to varying degrees, so give them a try and see what works for you. And if I’ve missed any, let me know in a reply your approach to happy speaking.
1. Understand That the Audience Doesn’t Know What You Haven’t Said. An approach that reduces stress in a number of clients of mine is to let go of perfectionism and just give the speech you can. The audience doesn’t know if you miss a bit, so don’t make success dependent on getting it perfectly.
2. Realize That the Eighty-Twenty Rule Applies to Audiences, Too. Another mistaken effort centers on trying to make everyone in the audience love you. They won’t all do so, so give up on that, and concentrate on the ones who do seem to be responding favorably.
3. Avoid Controversy. This technique means wimping out, but it’s one that politicians use all the time (except when they don’t). So avoid offending the audience, keep things happy, and you’ll head off hecklers from the audience, always a stress-inducing activity.
4. Go for the Positive. A variant of the Tony Robbins method, this approach involves relentlessly telling yourself that things are going to be great! Every day and every way! And so on. It works; don’t mock it until you’ve tried it.
5. Watch All the Ancillary Stuff. A lot of the stress of public speaking comes from the journey there, the nights away from the comforts of home, the indifferent food and accommodations, the loneliness (if you’re an extrovert), or the endless gladhanding (if you’re an introvert). Whatever stresses you out about the run-up to speaking, and the wind-down, seek to minimize the bad and maximize the good. Much of it can be negotiated with the organizers of the gig, so don’t be afraid to speak up.
6. Get Emotional. It’s essential for your continued speaking career to be professional and easy to work with at all times. But that doesn’t mean you have to be a robot. Expressing your feelings about how things are going can help you feel real and grounded. So keep it positive, mostly, but don’t be afraid to express disappointment, politely and professionally, when it’s there.
7. Give Yourself Plenty of Time. My speaking career and most of my clients’ careers are filled with stories of heroic attempts to pack a lot in to the schedule, whether it’s getting to that gig that has you flying the red eye to the coast twice in one week, or whatever. You can consciously decide to reduce your bookings slightly and space out your schedule. Many won’t be able to resist the allure of more, but if you can, that will reduce stress.
8. Handle the Before and After Stress Levels. You not only have the adrenaline beforehand, but many speakers experience the spiking adrenaline for several hours after the speech. That means that relaxing or quitting for the night can be difficult if not impossible. You need to develop routines to help yourself wind up and down.
9. Exercise Regularly. Everyone else says this too, of course, but it’s just as important for speakers as for anyone else. And it helps with #8.
10. Eat Healthily. Same goes for diet. It’s difficult to eat smart on the road, but it can be done. And it does make a difference.
11. Sleep Enough to Get the Rest You Need. As the research now makes clear, we need sleep to ravel back up the unraveled sleeve of care. Don’t skip on the basic necessities!
12. Decide What to Stress About, and What Not to. When you get in adrenaline mode, one of its problems is that everything can stress you out. The TV isn’t set to the right channel! The bottled water isn’t chilled! The M&Ms aren’t color-coded! If you keep clear about what’s important and what isn’t, perspective rules the day and helps keep you sane. Embrace it.
13. Don’t React. I’m still working on this one, but plenty of saner people report to me that if you take a deep breath, think it over, and don’t respond emotionally instantly, life goes better. Try it and let me know how you get on.
14.Detach. Somewhere between being present and maintaining a detached, Zen-like calm is the ideal temperament. But most of us get worked up because we perceive in the moment that we have a great deal at stake in the outcome of the present going the way we want. In fact, the number of times when the outcome really, truly, deeply matters is pretty small. Learn to recognize those times and let go of the rest.
15. Forgive Yourself – and Everyone Else. A lot of stress comes from the pressure we put on ourselves to achieve, and indeed, achieve specific things in specific ways. Sanity consists of letting go of perfection and forgiving ourselves for being merely human – and granting the rest of the human race the same courtesy.
A part of this post is adapted from my new book, Power Cues: The Subtle Science of Leading Groups, Persuading Others, and Maximizing Your Personal Impact, published May 13, 2014 by Harvard. You can order it here.