You’re standing in front of a crowd of attorneys. All eyes are focused on you. You’re new at this, so you read all you could about how to speak confidently. Your speech is highlighted. You’ve practiced giving it in front of a mirror. You’ve delivered it to friends. Now, though, you wonder if you should have done more. You come to a point that you’ve dreaded from the moment you first agreed to give this speech: You find yourself freezing.
No wonder so many people dread public speaking.
I saw this happen to an experienced speaker who had to give a 5-minute talk at a National Speakers Association conference. He literally lost his place, stopped and started, and then walked off the stage. He said to us, “I knew this was going to happen.”
Sometimes freezing happens at the beginning of a speech because the speaker sees all those people and feels overwhelmed. This is most commonly called stage fright.
Sometimes freezing signals a sudden drop in self-confidence. You’re hearing your words, and they begin to sound like so much garbage. “I didn’t make my point well,” you think, or “People look bored.” You want to run off the stage and never return to one.
A third reason for freezing—and these can all occur simultaneously—is that, although you prepared, maybe you didn’t prepare correctly.
Don’t Memorize to Avoid Freezing
Giving a memorized talk never works for at least two reasons. One is that, no matter how well you may feel you know your speech, nervousness can make you forget what comes next.
You might think that if only you could have your speech before you, you’d follow it with your finger. If you forgot what you were going to say, you’ll just go to that place on the page. But what if you lose your place?
The second reason not to memorize your talk to attorneys is that the delivery of a memorized speech can sound even more mechanical than a rote reading of the text. You’ll be too busy trying to remember what comes next to smile, make eye contact, and walk around the stage so that different parts of the audience feel that they’re getting attention.
Know the Main Points of Your Content
When you write your speech, have in mind that you need a limited number of key points. Expert speakers recommend no more than 5. Do memorize these points; they are the foundation of your speech.
Once you know them, practice improvised speeches using them as the basis. Do this at least a few times. The practice will give you the confidence that even if you lose your place in the text, you can continue speaking. You may find it helpful to have a sheet that lists those 5 or fewer points.
The better you get at improvising—and it’s an art worth learning—the more conversational will be the quality of your presentation. People respond to that; they feel as if you’re speaking directly to them. That builds engagement.
Use Physical Gestures
If you’re starting to feel overwhelmed and worry about freezing, finish one point, and pause for effect. Then walk around the stage and look at people, but don’t aimlessly wander. Experienced speakers move deliberately.
Take several deep—but inconspicuous—breaths. As you’re walking, focus on your feet and their connection to the floor of the stage. Feeling overwhelmed is not feeling grounded, and grounded is how you want to feel.
Ask a Question
I know of a legal nurse consultant who isn’t always comfortable speaking—although he has a lot to say. He uses a conversation device that I suspect helps him to gather his thoughts for the next part of his presentation.
He says either, “What does this mean?” or “Why is this important?” Then he pauses.
These are great questions because they make the audience stop and wonder. Some may try to mentally supply the answer; others will become curious.
The questions also remind the LNC why he’s speaking before this audience. In general, he has important things to say. The “Why is this important?” question reminds him of what he wants to say next.
You can vary the question format to suit the particulars of your speech. You could ask, “Why do we care about medical malpractice?” “What can we do as a profession to make patient care safer?” These questions will engage your audience and deepen the connection between them and you.
The better the connection, the less chance of freezing.
When the speaker froze in the middle of his talk at the NSA conference I attended, the moderator gave him a chance to redo his talk the next day. His second presentation was flawless.
You can’t count on being so lucky as to get a redo. Life rarely gives you redos.
Pat Iyer is president of The Pat Iyer Group, which develops resources to assist LNCs obtain more clients, make more money and achieve their business goals and dreams.
Pat has made presentations to attorneys and paralegals on a state and national basis.
Pat’s related websites include the LNC business coaching services offered through LNCAcademy.com, the continuing education provided on LNCEU.com, the podcasts broadcast at podcast.legalnursebusiness.com, and writing tips supplied at patiyer.com.