Memory Clutch

Vector concept of abusive people yelling at a child bullying him

Amor Towles writes in his book The Lincoln Highway a charming piece about a boy experiencing stage fright. Young Woolly has inherited the task of reciting the Gettysburg Address in front of his entire family. He’s petrified, but sister Sarah teaches him the speech line by line until he has it down. But when Woolly faces his family and has to wear a tie and scratchy suit, he freezes. Luckily, the clan comes to his rescue, reciting the speech as one.

Woolly’s dilemma is a version of what most people experience when they speak to an audience. Whether it’s the venue, wardrobe or other unexpected factors, we can be thrown off our game, especially when all eyes are on us!

To mitigate stage fright, do the following: rehearse out loud-- never in your head… Do a dress rehearsal, wearing the same clothes you’ll be presenting in… And practice in a space that roughly matches where you’ll be speaking. Then gather an audience of friends or colleagues and run the presentation by them. Or, rehearse in front of a mirror if that gives you confidence.

Surprise can exacerbate speaker anxiety. So do “If-thens” such as: “If a decision maker leaves during my presentation, I won’t let it throw me.” Or, “If I don’t get a good night’s sleep, I’ll work out and drink an extra cup of coffee.” Or, “I’ll time my presentation and know what to leave out if my running time is reduced.” Whatever happens, you’re prepared. Four score and seven years ago….

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