Stage Fright? Put Down Your Notes and Tell Me A Story

Shortness of breath, shaky hands, sweaty upper lip, the words you were about to say have suddenly abandoned your brain?  All you can think of is sitting down, or keeping the contents of your stomach in your stomach.  One thing over all else will let you breathe, remember your message, and connect to your audience.

Tell me stories that illustrate your point.

Yes, you have them.  Use your own stories.  You lived them and the “realness” of the story connected to your most salient points will say what a thousand researched statistics on a PowerPoint cannot.  Your stories will connect and resonate with your audience.

Example:  You are the HR Director – Your Topic is “Bullying in the Work Place”

You begin by showing and telling your audience some rather startling statistics.  According to the Workplace Bullying Institute’s latest survey: (http://www.workplacebullying.org/wbiresearch/2010-wbi-national-survey/)

  • 35% of workers have experienced bullying firsthand (37% in 2007, given the MOE, essentially equivalent)
  • 62% of bullies are men; 58% of targets are women
  • Women bullies target women in 80% of cases
  • Bullying is 4X more prevalent than illegal harassment (2007)
  • The majority (68%) of bullying is same-gender harassmentscared-public-speaker

As you go through your PowerPoint, delivering awesome research, you see your audience shifting in their seats, going to the coffee table in the back, or looking at their smart phones.  In short – you have lost them already.  The more the audience disconnects – the more your anxiety grows.  Quick – tell them a story that explains the data.  Do it before they start calling Mom.

You can prevent this disconnect from ever happening before you take the stage.  You can stop the stomach wrenching, fear of passing out, before you ever open your mouth.  It is all in the approach to your presentation.

  • Tell stories to connect with your audience and prove your point.  For each major point that you want your audience to understand – build in a story that brings that point to life.

It is most effective if you can tell your story – example:

At least one third of all of us in this room has been bullied at work.  I know I have.  I was new, trying as hard as I could to do everything expected of me, and more.  Instead of appreciating my work, my boss degraded me in public meetings, by making jokes about my “over-performance” and lack of ability to manage my time. 

At least one out of three of us have been bullied at work.  It is not a rare occurence.   I have.  I was new, trying as hard as I could to do everything expected of me, and more.  Instead of appreciating my work, my boss degraded me in public meetings, by making jokes about my “over-performance” and lack of ability to manage my time. 

I went home thinking he must be right.  He’s the boss.  Soon I couldn’t sleep, felt nauseous every time I walked into the office.  Finally I quit.  It took three months, a lot of running, and a business coach to help me see that “it wasn’t my problem. 

As you tell your story your nerves stop trying to knock you off your feet.  You know your own stories so they are easy to remember.  They add color and depth to complicated issues.  You may feel the inner professor nagging at you to put together a whiz-bang PowerPoint filled with impressive numbers.  The truth is, no one will remember the numbers, but they will remember the message if you bring the statistics to life.

There is a Persuasive Story Behind Every Data Set Or Statistic

  • Stories build confidence – you feel in charge of your speech almost immediately.  Nerves…no way, I want to talk to my audience, to tell them about this important issue.
  • Stories capture and hold your audience’s attention – stories make people listen.
  • Stories build your credibility with the audience and bring data to life – your stories make audiences believe what you say, and those stories will make the facts stick better than any data set on the planet.  Telling your stories helps any audience understand the issue through the eyes of someone who has lived the data.

Stories make us listen because they are drawn from shared emotions and experiences.  Stories build almost instant rapport, interest in your subject, and bring your numbers to life. The more stories you tell – the more relaxed and persuasive you become as a speaker.  Every story you tell takes you one step closer to your audience and a leap away from stage fright.

(http://www.workplacebullying.org/wbiresearch/2010-wbi-national-survey/)