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Stage fright: I’m just not comfortable presenting to a crowd

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Stage fright: I’m just not comfortable presenting to a crowd

One of the most common forms of stage fright is the fear of speaking to a crowd. A sea of expectant faces staring right back at you is nerve wracking for many presenters. Even just twenty people – about three round tables in a ballroom – sends your heart racing and your palms into a sweat. The more people are sitting before you in the auditorium, the worse it gets. Twenty is bad enough. Two hundred is worse, two thousand is just terrifying.

But just like all the other dozen or so distinct fears of presenting, understanding the reason is key to a resolution.

One reason you suffer this form of stage fright is, ironically, because you are so good with people. There is a good chance you treasure sincere, authentic relationships. Perhaps you are good at giving them advice or imparting your knowledge. You prefer to interact with people 1-to-1. Perhaps you have a very small, tight-knit social circle, whose members have been your very good friends since your school or university days. You can count on each other through good times and bad.

It might take some time to break the ice, but once people are in your inner circle, they are your friends for life.

If these describe you, you are one step closer to quelling your fears.

It is precisely your preference to interact with people 1-to-1 that turns you off from interacting 1-to-many. Presentations often feel like a performance, contrived, awkward, pushing a message. This is the exact opposite of the sincere, authentic relationships you prefer. Far from being a small and tight-knit circle, audiences tend to be a large agglomeration of strangers.

Make friends with members of your audience

Before your presentation be sure to meet individual members of your audience and engage in a 1-to-1 conversation with them. You can always find like-minded people at conferences, who shy away from social gatherings just as much as you do.

You can spot them standing alone on the sidelines of the foyer outside the seminar room during the tea breaks, nursing a cup of coffee.

Don’t hide in the speakers’ room. Strike up a sincere, authentic 1:1 conversation with them. It’s not about finding a best friend, but a friendly face in the audience who you can talk to when you stand at the rostrum delivering your presentations.

Speak to your audience like they are your friend

Your 1-to-1 conversation continues from the stage. This might sound odd when you are facing, say, 200 people. In reality the only person in the room who feels like it’s a 1-to-many conversation is you.

For every one of the 200 audience members it is a 1-to-1 conversation from you to them.

When you realise that your audience also wants to be addressed in a sincere and authentic way, rather than as just an anonymous face in a large crowd, you can begin to treat your presentation as a 1-to-1 conversation. It's just that you're having it with all 200 people simultaneously.

You don’t have to become their friend. Just speak to them as though they were. Use the same words and tone you normally do when speaking with your besties.

Get to know your audience, let them get to know you

You treasure 1-to-1 relationships because you and your friends know each other, understand each other, possibly have had shared experiences, maybe even shared a few secrets.

Interacting with your audience is imperative to replicating this from the stage. You don’t need to play silly “ice breaker” games which have nothing to do with your presentation (please don't make your audience get up and stretch, and never ask them to turn to the person seated next to them to give them a back scratch. This sort of gimmick is not new or funny. It's simply inappropriate for our times).

Invite your audience to contribute meaningfully to your presentation topic by stating their goals or desired outcomes from your presentation, which you can refer to as you walk through your slides. Or invite their comments in a word cloud or virtual whiteboard.

Again, you don’t need to let audience members into your inner circle. But the more you speak to your audience like they are your friends, the more they will warm to you and the more you will warm to them.

This is not the only reason why people are uncomfortable speaking with crowds. Look out for the other articles in this series.

Visit our website to see how we can help you overcome any form of stage fright, and become a natural, sincere presenter without leaving your comfort zone.

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Mark Laudi

Mark Laudi

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