I often get asked about how to get ready to speak. And of course I say, prepare a great speech, rehearse the content and body language, and work on your unconscious mental state. But all of that needs to 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 the chances that things will go well, and give yourself an extra jolt of charisma before you go out on stage? Following are seven last-minute prep tricks to try (never forgetting the real prep in the weeks beforehand!)

1.Talk to Yourself.

Self-talk is sometimes maligned as too woo-woo, but it is effective. And the bad news is that Amy Cuddy’s power poses have been shown not to be effective in follow up research. So it isn’t enough just to stand tall. You also need to think tall, and that’s where self-talk comes in. Find a positive mantra and repeat it. It will keep the negative thoughts away, and that will increase your confidence at the very least.

2.Poll the People Outside the Hall.

Some people – introverts, mainly – do better to focus by themselves in the green room. But for some people, chatting up your future audience outside the hall can help ground you, keep you from working up a big head of fear, and create some positive energy and familiar faces when you do get to the stage. So, not for everyone, but helpful for those who are 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 big 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 happens.

This tip is surprisingly important. When you’re full of adrenaline, you tend to need to vent, and I’ve seen way too many speakers vent on the sound guy, or the PA, or the lighting person because of some small screw-up beforehand. So channel your inner Dalai Lama 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 the others 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 them, 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. Focus on the message. Focus on 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.

These days, 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.


Finally, smile. Smiling shifts your vocal chords around, open up your vocal production, and creates a warmer sound. And, it can even make you feel a little bit better. So plaster a big grin on your face and go get ‘em!

We’ll be talking about these tricks for successful delivery and a lot more during our first public speaking workshop in 6 years. Join us on April 22nd in Boston for an intensive one-day session on content and delivery. Spaces are limited, so sign up soon.


  1. This is a great post, Nick. I love your ideas here. I REALLY appreciate your continued reinforcement that it’s not about us….

    Quick thought: We had Amy Cuddy on the podcast recently. Beyond the poses bit, I appreciated her take on what you refer to as the mantra. She suggested it’s not about some psych up self-talk. She suggested that you just affirm what you know is true.

    Instead of some Stuart Smalley-esque “I’m awesome…..”, it’s more effective to focus on what is true: “I’m prepared. I’ve done my homework. What I have to say can truly help these people. The research behind this presentation is solid.” Etc.

    I’ve found that to be helpful before keynotes. One additional thing I add: “I can’t WAIT to get on stage!”

    1. Thanks, Andy — I’m in violent agreement with Amy on the mantra idea. I talk about it in Power Cues (in fact, it’s Power Cue #6) and what I recommend is that you create a positive statement along precisely those lines, not a silly “I’m so cool” kind of statement.

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