Let me preface this by saying that I used to be a performer, and while it used to terrify me, once I got to middle school, being on stage came pretty naturally. While I feel like taking advice from someone who conquered a fear may be more effective, I have a lot of knowledge and wisdom to impart (yes this is a joke, I just think I could help you).
I want to start by articulating a common misconception:
Just because I have been on stage a lot, and enjoy doing what I do, does NOT mean I don’t get nervous. My voice cracks, my legs twitch and I pretty much black out right before I’m on stage. No matter how prepared I am or how many people are in front of me, I could potentially tank this entire performance, and that is terrifying. With that being said, masking the nerves and anxiety that comes with public speaking simply takes practice and while I have had the practice, it is about masking the nerves rather than ridding them.
I definitely feel as though public speaking is a skill to have, even if you don’t ever think you’ll end up in front of a crowd. With it, comes character development that is difficult to adopt in everyday circumstances and this includes an ignorance which coincides with people’s judgement. While walking up to a podium, you should no longer be concerned with what other people are thinking and how other people are observing; this is where the phrase ‘you-do-you’ could not be more appropriate. Focus on what you’re saying rather than what the audience is thinking and looking at.
It’s important to remember that every stage of this process is about you and what makes you comfortable. Everything from the clothes you wear to the words you say to the audience you speak in front of, is up to you. I wish that someone had told me not to wear heels on stage and that any coping mechanism, like holding a stress ball or pacing while speaking, is appropriate.
Creating a dynamic with the audience, and setting the tone for your discussion is also an imperative skill to adopt while speaking in public. This is so that you aren’t thrown by a reaction nor can your content be taken in the wrong way. I recently watched an interview with a comedian where one of his jokes was taken fairly offensively across the board, and while some things are definitely inappropriate to make fun of, it can turn into a complete train wreck if your message is miscommunicated. Therefore, establishing the theme of your dialogue is key to creating a healthy dynamic with the audience.
Overall, I need to point out that I am no expert on public speaking and being in front of a crowd. I feel as though this is one of the few life-practices where it is truly about you and it is ‘no-holds barred’ with regard to how to adapt to a high-stress, intimidating scenario. It is also important to note that while I think this is a good skill to have, it is not a requirement for life.