If you're like most people, you experience some jitters around the idea of public speaking. These 5 steps won't make your nerves disappear completely, but they will make your life on stage A LOT easier.
1. Rehearse your links:
You don't need to know your speech word for word. You don't need to spend hours rehearsing every day either. All you really need is to know which points to hit when. But you need to know that backwards. Make sure you have very clear, logical links from one point to the next. Practice them out of order to make sure it's a logical link, not a memorized one. If the links have a logical progression it doesn't matter how blank your mind goes you will never get lost. You don't need to hold the whole speech in your head from beginning to end, all you need to know is the very next step.
2. Read aloud daily:
Or at least read aloud every day for the week leading up to your speech. Read from a newspaper or a book you've never read before, so that you're seeing the words for the first time as you're reading them (actors call this a “cold read”). It doesn't need to be much, half a page will do. Reading aloud is magical, the most important thing it does is speed up the brain-mouth connection. If you ever feel like your brain is goes a mile a minute and your mouth stumbles trying to keep up, this is a great way to smooth out those bumps. The other great thing that reading aloud does (providing you're reading something that is well written) is that it actually improves your vocabulary and grammar. You're essentially training the language part of your brain. Reading aloud daily will not only help you feel more comfortable in a performance setting, but it will help ease the overall flow of your speech patterns.
3. Add a pencil:
If you know you are prone to stumbling, stuttering or speaking too fast, put a pencil between your teeth when reading aloud. Of course, the aim of the exercise is to sound like you DON'T have a pencil in your mouth. Once your muscles become used to perfect diction around a pencil, speaking normally will seem a breeze in comparison. Another great trick is to read your speech with a pencil in your mouth. If there are any words groups that are particularly difficult to get your mouth around you may want to reword that section to avoid tripping over them on stage.
4. Wear unrestrictive clothing:
And don't wear anything brand new. Just like you want your mouth to be familiar with the shape of the words you are going to use, you also want your body to be familiar with the clothes you are wearing, the size of the stage and the way you are standing. You don't need any surprises or distractions when you're strutting your stuff. You want to be able to gesticulate and breath freely. Wear something that looks good, but also something that allows movement and that you feel comfortable in. If you usually wear high heels make sure you wear a pair you know how to walk easily in and make sure the heel isn't too high. If you are already high up you don't want any extra wobbliness.
5. Chat during set up:
Half of what is so scary about being on stage is that you're not used to it. How can something you never do in your normal life feel easy? Get to the venue early and stand on the stage. Walk around and get to know it. More importantly chat to people who are in the auditorium. Chat to the person setting up the sound, bring a friend and get them to ask you questions on your subject. Avoid the temptation to “perform” this is less about rehearsing and more about making the stage your home. Talk to them like you would on the street, notice how natural it feels. This practice will also help break down some of the “us – them” mentality that comes from standing on a separate level to your audience.
There are of course many other habits you can build to reduce stage fright, these are just a few of my favourites. The best thing you can do is get up there as often as possible. Even if you aren't speaking regularly, if you are able to build a little ritual for yourself around preparation for the event, the more you will feel like you've done this a million times and the more your anxiety will fade.
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Have you ever wondered what the point of tongue twisters was? Ever felt like they don't do very much? You probably learned tongue twisters as a child. When you're a kid the entire point of tongue twisters is to go faster than the kid next to you. So what possible application can they have in real life?
Contrary to popular belief the point of tongue twisters is NOT to go a fast as you can. Not initially anyway. The point is to limber up your facial muscles in order to create greater dexterity and precision. Tongue twisters are extremely effective. When done properly.
Start slow and big
At the beginning want to over articulate a much as possible, use your entire lower face. Engage your cheeks, your lips and your tongue. (Your eyebrows, jaw and neck should not be involved.) Do this in the mirror and see how big and agile your mouth can get. Really over enunciate and warm up those stiff muscles.
Never sacrifice clarity for speed
You do want to speed up, you always want to be challenging yourself to go just a bit faster than is comfortable. But there are two things that are always more important than speed:
1. Precision. You should always sound as clear a you did when you were slowly over articulating. If words start to run together or muddy around the edges, slow down agin and revisit step one. This sin't about making sense, it's about being clear on every syllable, so you will pronounce some letters that you might gloss over in everyday speech like the T in “at”. Be especially aware of consonant clusters (like “ts” or “kt”) this won't always sound like normal speech. The point is to exercise your muscles and improve your articulation, not to reinforce your existing habits.
2. Keep the breath free. When you were doing it slowly you probably had enough breath for every line of text so breathing was pretty natural. As you speed up the temptation will be to hold your breath. Holding your breath will introduces tension and in order to be dextrous you need to be relaxed. We don't want to do any damage. Let the breath come and go freely, see how much you can separate the actions of your articulators so they work independently of your neck, breath and eyebrows. Still. Pronounce. Every. Single. Consonant.
Got it? Try these:
The swift flew through the thistle
Give me the gift of a grip top sock
Red lorry yellow lorry
I am the very model of a modern major general
Test yourself by building momentum until you trip up, then dial it back just one notch from there. Continue to check in with yourself and be vigilant about those consonants. Be a perfectionist and resist the temptation to be the kid who wants to go faster and faster and win the competition. This should be a workout for your lips, tongue, cheeks and brain.
Do 5 minutes of tongue twisters a day (properly) for 2 weeks and you’ll notice a difference in the ease and clarity of your speech. Not only will it be easier for people to hear you when you’re on autopilot, but your sight reading and thinking on the spot will improve too! Keep switching it up and you’ll notice it’s not just your articulators that are getting some exercise it’s your mind too.
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Danielle Benzon coaches entrepreneurs and performing artists in voice, acting and audition technique. She is also certified to teach the Meisner Approach through the True Acting Institute. Danielle is based in Vancouver, Canada.