It's amazing but not surprising that studies have shown the #1 scariest thing in the world is speaking in public. Death is #2!
I still get nervous when I speak in public, but nowhere near how nervous I used to get. I have learned how to catch it when I change myself because of an audience. The destructive change is a shift into "Good Presenter" mode. That good presenter wants to be helpful, funny, intelligent, emotionally fulfilling...all good stuff. Basically he wants to be liked.
When we change who we are to be liked, we make fear an easy choice. Change can be a good thing, if it's done for good intention. I change who I am in order to be the best I can be but I do this in the preparation stage. Once I walk into the performance, I am focused on execution of what I've prepared. "This time, I'm going to say this! I'll find out after if they liked it, and what could be better." Do this 50 times before the audience-filled performance, and you're performing your best, and getting feedback for the next time.
Do not ask or apologize in performance. Ask opinions afterwards if you want, but in performance, it is execution time.
While performing, your best goal is to let go of ALL thoughts about what others are thinking about you, and simply share your best version of yourself.
The same goes for public speaking. On this front, I think I've learned a great deal from my students. I watch them come into their lessons ready to do their "Magic Line Performance". The MLP method has them speaking before and after their musical performance. They say what they're going to play, a scholarly piece of information, and some words on their "story". Their story is loosely defined as visual, dramatic, and/or emotional aspects that they bring to the music that is more than what's written on the page. They have to aim higher than impressive regurgitation. They have to make choices about the music that makes it theirs, and do so with the listening experience in mind. The Audience! Oh yeah, them! :)
I would guess that almost student of mine has had this experience with me at some point. They come in and say "hi" and talk about their weekend, and then they go to perform. When they start speaking in performance, something changes. Either their voice is higher, eyebrows are lifted, body is more stiff, it's one long sentence, or they add a bunch of question marks. My favorite is, "Hi. My name is Jeff Nelsen?"
I understand this well because I do it too. Your goal in performance is to authentically be who you are, and share that fantastic unique thing that is YOU. This is all an audience wants from us. They want excellence too, but that's a given, and we work on that too...behind the scenes. We perform our best when we are calmly authentic. We get nervous when we decide, "This time matters more." and shift what we do. When we "go for it" in performance, we miss more notes. This happens because we changed our technique in order to go for it...
Public speaking is a fantastic laboratory for studying how we choose to negatively change things when we're better served staying calm, cool, and consistently you...authentic.
So the second half of the experience many of my students have had goes something like this: (I don't allllways do this to them, but sometimes...)
If they change their voice or body a lot, after a few sentences I interrupt them by asking, "Hey, what did you do this weekend?" They are initially confused, and slowly say, "Ummm...huh?" I ask again, and they slowly say, "I went to the football game?"
I ask, "Did you eat anything?" They say "yeah" and I say, "Ok, say three more sentences about your weekend and then keep that same "comfortable you" tone and feel, and go into your Magic Line Story."
They smile as they "get it" and start to return to being more themselves as they say, "I had a hot dog? It was reeeaally good! The band sounded amazing, and the football team was...well, you know. Today I will perform the first movement of Richard Strauss First Horn Concerto. There exists a piano and horn part penned in Strauss' own hands, so I see this as viable recital repertoire. Written in 1883 for his hornist father, this first movement helps prove the axiom that there are only two types of music in the world - Love Songs and Pirate Songs. You decide."
Ahhhh....their voice, their story, and they make the music making theirs as well.
If you shoot for impressing someone, or convincing someone with your performance (speaking or playing) you might lose some of what makes you special. We need YOU out here...all of YOU.
Take some opportunities this week to speak publicly where you otherwise wouldn't. Ot watch how you meet and speak to strangers. Listen to your tone, and focus on staying whatever "you" is.
- Speak without useless modifiers - no "umm", "like", etc...
- Use periods. End sentences, and be comfortable with some silence.
My wife's mother did calligraphy for Oprah, and she says when she met her for the first time, Oprah shook her hand and looked into her eyes for just a second longer than most people would. It felt a bit more connected...and a bit scary! Heh...don't stare too long...