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Make the audience feel welcome (and banish stage fright)

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This post is an excerpt from “The Leader’s Guide to Speaking with Presence: How to Project Confidence, Conviction, and Authority” by John Baldoni (AMACOM Books, 2014). For more on “Speaking with Presence,” visit View a video promo for the book, and order via Amazon.

“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death,” quipped comedian Jerry Seinfeld. “This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” Funny, yes, but for many people all too real.

Fear of speaking in public stems from many things, such as uncertainty about what to say, the perception that you might embarrass yourself, or even self-consciousness about how you will sound. These feelings stem from one thing: lack of self-confidence. How can you gain more self-confidence as a speaker? The same way (as the old joke goes) you get to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice!

Good advice, but how do you get started? How do you get up the gumption to stand up and deliver? It is critical to adopt a different mindset. You need to project that sense of confidence even if you are not feeling it yet.

A crippling fear for some folks is the fear of making a mistake, a fear that stems from a sense of having no control. But this is ridiculous. You do have control over what you say and how you say it, so take the feeling one step further. Regard the audience as a gathering of your guests. Your opportunity to speak is their invitation to listen, so they are your guests. Here are three ways to do this.

  1. Adopt your “welcome persona.” When you invite people into your home, you show hospitality. You want people to feel at ease. So you offer amenities such as food and refreshments. As a presenter, you extend yourself. Imagine yourself shaking hands with every person in the audience as you might do if they really were guests in your home.
  2. Ensure comfort. You want people to feel comfortable when you are speaking. Too often we assume the audience is our enemy and that we must keep them at a distance. Nonsense. You want them to pull them close to you so they see what kind of a presenter you are. You want to make them feel at ease as you speak.
  3. Remember that it’s “your” house. As a presenter, you own the stage. Your stage, as my colleague and performance coach Diana Theodores, Ph.D., says, is any area from which you present. That space may be the front of a room or the stage of a grand theater, or even from a seated position at a conference table. As the owner, you have a responsibility for your message as well as to those who are listening. Give them a good show by doing your best.

You control yourself, but you do not control everything. I still remember vividly the time I delivered a keynote presentation and my slides did not advance. The computer system froze. So I went to plan B; I pulled out my paper copy and continued. All was well until I set my folder down, only to knock over a glass of water on the podium. I can still see the stream of water flowing across the stage toward the power strip. “I am not an expert in electronics,” I quipped to the audience as I fell to my knees to soak up the water with my handkerchief, “but I do know that water and electricity do not mix.” I saved the system from shorting out, but I don’t think I saved my presentation. It was fried!

When you seek to put others at ease, you are taking control of the situation. You are demonstrating a sense of confidence, and when you are feeling confident, you will feel a greater sense of control. You will adopt another persona: ownership of the message. You become the expert and you want to share your expertise with others. This is not arrogance; this is self-confidence.


As you consider presenting:

  • Visualize yourself in a place of relaxation, such as at home, at the beach, or in the mountains.
  • Breathe in and out in a deep, rhythmic fashion.
  • Imagine yourself radiating confidence as you stand up to speak.

Then ask …

  • What can you do to make the audience feel more comfortable?

“The Leader’s Guide to Speaking with Presence: How to Project Confidence, Conviction, and Authority” by John Baldoni

@ 2014 John Baldoni. All rights reserved. Published by AMACOM Books —

Division of American Management Association

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