When a possum is threatened, he contracts into a ball, while bears do the opposite. They stand on their hind legs to make themselves look bigger. Chameleons change color and remain perfectly still, while peacocks expand their tail-feathers to assert their dominance.
It happens in the animal kingdom, and it happens to us when we get anxious, and especially when we have stage fright. We can either freeze, tighten up, or overdo it, none of which is optimal.
If we freeze or tighten up, we won’t inspire confidence, and if we puff ourselves up too much we lose our personal warmth and authenticity.
So what’s the path to success?
Strive for the golden mean: High energy, low tension, and a sense of purpose that keeps you connected to yourself and the real concerns of your listeners.
It’s easier to attain this inner state of high energy and low tension if you rehearse in conditions that simulate high-stakes moments. Actors do this all the time. They gather to rehearse and push one another until they all feel comfortable with their lines and confident in their delivery.
If you don’t have a group to work with, another way to up your game is to rehearse with a coach. He or she can pinpoint and remedy what needs to be fixed, put you through your paces, and get you to the next level with less time and no guesswork.
No audience likes to be dominated, or pushed around by a show-off. Nor do they want to be made uncomfortable by a speaker who is visibly nervous and melting into a puddle of his own bodily fluids.
They want the real you, the real deal–except they want you prepared, on point, and engaging.
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