Iíve been speaking on the topic of family
caregiving and giving this particular speech, or some variation of it,
several times a month for about five years. Why, then, did I Ė an
experienced speaker Ė recently suffer from an attack of stomach-turning
stage fright? For some reason, on this particular day, my heart started
pounding and those little butterflies I sometimes feel seized the
opportunity to grow to the size of bats! I hadnít even left home for the
event, but I was already in deep trouble.
Iím passionate about my topic and
believe in my message and my presentation. Iím always excited to share
my story and help the caregivers who come to hear me speak. I knew the
venue was a prestigious country club in Palm Desert, California, with
excellent audio and visual equipment. The luncheon tables were going to
be set with linens and lovely bouquets of spring flowers. The attendance
exceeded everyoneís expectations. This was a perfect setting for my
presentation. So I stood there, fighting the bats and wondering:
Whatís going on?
There Were Reasons
As soon as the trouble started, I asked
myself what was different that day. My fear was compounded by the
- About a dozen friends who had never
heard me speak professionally were attending this event.
- I was having the speech video and
- I was hired to do this presentation
by an event planner who is also a friend. She had never heard me
speak, and I wanted to do an exceptionally good job for her.
This was a good reminder that no matter
how experienced we become as speakers, the potential for some level of
stage fright never really goes away. Having accepted that this was, in
fact, happening to me, I went through a list I compiled years ago about
how to solve this problem:
- Having friends in the
audience is a good thing! Familiar faces are always
welcome, and I knew the subject matter was appropriate for most of
- The recording shouldnít be
of any concern. It was being done by a professional whose
job was to make me look good and provide me with additional
back-of-the-room products to sell. I could let him be nervous about
- Why did I need to be
concerned about doing an exceptionally good job for the event
planner? I strive to do an exceptionally good job every
time I speak, and this was no different. I was well-prepared and
well-rehearsed. I was dressed appropriately and immaculately
This list helped me realize that I
simply needed to put a few of my advanced-speaker tricks into play to
take control of the unexpected anxiety.
Stage Fright Solutions
This particular event was set to take
place about 30 minutes from my home. As soon as I started my car, I
tuned into a country music station and sang along with the various
artists Ė as loudly as I could. By the time I arrived at the venue, I
was about 75 percent back to normal and beginning to look forward to
Still, I felt a bit uneasy. It was a warm, dry day with a humidity level
of only 7 percent and my voice was reflecting the dryness. I became
conscious of the following tricks that I always carry but rarely need to
- No caffeine on speech days.
I had ordered decaffeinated coffee that morning, but did I actually
get it? (Mental note to skip coffee in future).
- Avoid dairy products.
They can coat your mouth and throat. Check.
- No alcohol. It can
affect your speech and thinking. Check.
- Throat lozenges.
They can soothe an irritated or dry throat. Check.
- Breathe deeply. It
reduces body tension and slows your heart rate. Check.
- Stretch. It helps
to physically shake tension out of the body. Check.
- Greet each audience member
at the door. Seeing their smiles helps humanize them for me
and shrink those bats back down to butterflies. Key.
Audiences Are People
The last bullet point was the key. I
always try to talk with attendees prior to my presentation. This way, I
become more connected to each of them as a part of the audience, and I
believe it solidifies the audienceís connection to me as well. Although
it does take additional time to do so, I feed off that interaction with
the audience because it generates even more energy for me as I begin my
On this day, I positioned myself at the far end of the sign-in table so
as not to impede the check-in process. When each person picked up his or
her program and name badge, I introduced myself as the keynote speaker.
Everyone seemed touched by this gesture. Most people said something
like, ďIím so happy to meet you. Youíre the reason Iím here today.Ē It
became clear that many people I met really needed to hear what I had to
say. What better cure for the jitters is there?
So I pursued those conversations a
little further. I asked if they were currently in a caregiving
situation, or if they expected to be soon. It didnít take much to get
them to respond. The trick was to learn a little about what they needed
from me without hearing each personís entire story. That way, I could
move on to the next attendee and gather as much information and
encouragement as I needed. I assured each person that if they didnít get
exactly what they needed from my presentation, I would be available
after the event to help in any way possible.
By the time I stepped up to the podium, I knew how many audience members
were caring for loved ones. I knew the majority were caring for parents,
spouses or siblings. And I knew they were dealing with illness or aging,
as opposed to something short-term and less disheartening, such as an
injury or a newborn child. Because I knew this, I could speak to each
audience ` member as if he or she were the only one in the room.
Remembered: Itís About Them
I memorized the names of a few
attendees who were particularly open about their caregiving challenges
during our discussion and used them throughout the presentation. This
technique told the audience I really listened to them earlier and that I
really wanted to help. I have found that using names keeps people alert
and gets them more involved in the presentation.
I also mentioned the names of a few others sitting near the front
because I could read their badges. For example, I said, ďSuppose Carol
here was having trouble convincing her mother that she should no longer
drive a car.Ē It didnít matter if Carol was actually caring for her
mother, because I knew that many of the attendees were dealing with
As a continuing member of Toastmasters International, as well as a
professional speaker, I was clearly reminded on this day that I was not
immune to suffering a nasty bout of stage fright. I hope to be prepared,
always, for that day when the butterfly-bats and the rapid heart rate
gang up on me again. A lot of good ideas from experienced Toastmasters
are shared in meetings about how to handle this situation. Knowing some
of them helped me beyond my greatest expectations to make those
butterflies flutter lightly once again.
Karen Twichell, ACS,
is an author and professional speaker who is a member of Rancho Speech
Masters club in Rancho Santa Margarita, California. Reach her at