What’s the key moment in the life of the speaker? Is it the standing ovation? The off-script excitement of a Q and A session? The moment of connection with an audience at the beginning of a talk?
All those moments are important, but the most important moment is the moment before you go on. How do you prepare to give a speech in the minutes before you are about to go on?
I’m continuing my series on the care and feeding of speakers, life on the road, and how to sustain a long, successful career.
Tony Robbins apparently drinks some sort of caffeinated drink, or maybe it’s green tea, and jumps up and down on a little trampoline he carries everywhere with him. If “I’m Am Not Your Guru,” the documentary about the world’s most successful motivational speaker, is to be believed, he also does a little bit of self-talk. Watch the film and see him do a bit of a twist and say a few words to himself just before he goes on.
What’s your ritual? How do you focus, pump yourself up, calm yourself down, establish mindfulness, or do whatever you do in order to be ready to wow the audience?
Following are several ways that clients over the years have found most helpful. This is not a scientific study of a statistically significant number of speakers, understand – it’s my list of what I have observed has stuck, worked, and got the job done.
1.Music. By far the most common element, especially since the iPod was invented, and music became cheap and easy to carry around, is tunes. Most speakers have a favorite set of music designed to either pump them up or calm them down, depending on what they need.
What’s your fave tune? A recent study (yes, someone studied this, really) found that the two songs that make people feel most powerful are Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and 2 Unlimited’s “Get Ready for This.” You can argue whether or not power is the best way to go, but it’s certainly a reasonable choice, and if it’s yours, perhaps you should start listening to Queen or 2 Unlimited.
My personal favorite is the theme from Mission Impossible, but that seems to be an outlier. I’ve never heard of anyone else getting pumped up with that.
2.Breathing. I’ve posted before on the importance of breathing. In order to have a voice that can lead a group, your lungs and vocal chords need air. In order to provide those crucial organs with air, you need belly breathing. It will calm you, and if you practice it regularly, give you a consistent confidence over time. Belly breathing starts, not surprisingly, in the belly. You should expand your stomach like the bulb of an eye dropper as you take air into your lungs. Hold the air gently with your diaphragmatic muscles (the ones just underneath your rib cage) and let it out slowly as you exhale. Remember to breathe occasionally as you speak, too!
3.Standing relaxation. Stand in a quiet corner backstage, and begin a set of tensing and releasing of all your muscle groups. Start with your feet. Squeeze them as if you were a bird grasping the branch you’re perched on. Then release the tension. Next, your calves. Then thighs, buttocks, back, stomach, chest, neck, and head, working your way upward, one muscle group at a time. When you reach your head, a gentle massage of the point where your jaw hinges with your face just below your ears is surprisingly good for releasing tension. If you’re wearing makeup, be careful not to mess it up.
4.Vocal warm ups. You need a quiet place to do this, away from the audience. It’s something that stage actors and well-trained singers take very seriously. Any kind of performance using the voice puts a good deal of strain on it, and warm ups are very helpful for both strengthening the voice and reducing the wear and tear on it. Develop your own routine, but a great place to start is Edith Skinner’s classic book on the voice, Speak with Distinction.
5.Self-talk. All speakers should develop a positive mantra to help them focus, stay on track, and remain confident as the adrenaline cycle starts to kick in. You’ll develop your own, but keep it simple, positive, and avoid use of negative words. Don’t say (to yourself) “I won’t screw up,” because your brain will remember the “screw up. Instead, say something like, “I’m going to show up with energy, excitement, and power.”
How do you prepare for your speaking events while you’re waiting backstage?