See, I’ll start directly and first tell you about some incidents when I myself had stage fright and was embarrassed on stage. You too might have had such incidents.
I remember in college, I had to present on wood chipping before my class, and I went on and on reading from my slides, a part of me afraid of the people watching me.
I droned about different types of wood chippers but I don’t think anyone present there really understood what each chipper did. I was shyly talking to myself. I was in the Oh!-I-have-to-say-something-on-stage mode.
In school, I was a quiz-master asking each team questions. I remember looking at Team A and saying – “Team A your question is…Sorry, it’s Team B’s turn. Wh-wh-what is the cap-ita…sorry, I’ll change the question…” It was a mess and I wanted to just get it over. I was embarrassed. I was in the Oh!-I have-to-say-something-on-stage mode.
Now what is this Oh!-I-have –to-say-something-on-stage mode? Basically, we are obsessed with how WE ARE SPEAKING ON STAGE. We think – AM I SPEAKING things which the audience likes? Or what is the text that I WANTED to speak? Or How do I FINISH this fast so that I get over with it?
The focus is on “I”. The focus is on I-HAVE-TO-SPEAK. There is nothing about the audience in our minds. Only – HOW-CAN-I-SPEAK-WELL-ON-STAGE. Nothing about the audience actually getting benefited. Isn’t that so?
When you last presented, were you not obsessed with phrases like – I-have-to-speak-well-on-stage, how-am-i-speaking, is-the-audience-finding-me-good-enough?
All this is what I am calling the Oh!-I-have-to-say-something-on-stagemode.
I think, in this mode, we ALWAYS have stage fright.
Now let me tell you what happened to me to awaken me out of this mode.
My brother in law persuaded me to anchor at his baby boy’s birthday party one evening. There were around 50 people seated in front of me. And I was thrust upon the audience. I was not prepared! I had no speech to think off. I was blank! There was no time to think of things like – I-have-to-speak-something-on –stage or what-is-the-audience-thinking-of-me. Nothing – it was so impromptu!
In that moment it SUDDENLY struck me, that the audience consisted of people like me sitting and listening. And All I wanted to do was TALK to Them. That’s all! Like I talked to my friends!
So I imagined that the audience consisted of friends who I wanted to talk to.
So I said excitedly– “Hi friends and relatives! I’m Meghashyam. We’re starting off Virinchi’s birthday day party, so why not give a big hand!”
And everybody clapped! And then I started talking to them about the first game we would play. I didn’t prepare ANY script – I just explained the game to them as I would explain it to a friend! And then we played. They had to pass a box around as the music played and the guy with the box when the music stopped had to dance or sing. And like I would naturally shout and scream when the music stopped, I shouted and screamed on stage!
It was so natural, and so much fun!
Because I was in the I-want-to-talk-to-you mode.
After that whenever I anchored, or spoke before an audience, the I-want-to-talk-to-you mode never left me. It was so easy!
“I-want-to-talk-to-you” mode means you want to explain something to the audience clearly and are explaining it, as you would explain it to a friend! Suppose a friend asks you – “Tell me how to calculate the HCF of a number. “ You’d simply explain it to him. You wouldn’t be obsessed about I-have-to-speak would you? Similarly, imagine the audience to be consisting of people like you, and you wanting to REALLY explain things to them. Then explain things as you woud really explain to a friend. Get into the I-want-to-talk-to-you mode.
For example, in a PhD presentation, if you are explaining how the enzyme amylase is prepared, then explain that to the professors and the committee as if you really want them to understand. If you were to explain this same thing to a friend – would you not be concerned if he understood or not? You would want to tell him clearly so that he ACTUALLY understands. Do just that. WANT TO TALK TO THE AUDIENCE. Be in the I-want-to-talk-to-you mode.
Next when you have a presentation, simply do this – WANT TO TELL THE AUDIENCE SOMETHING. You’ll really get out of the I-have-to-speak-on-stage obsession. It’ll vanish, your phobia of public speaking.
Come, try it.
(By the way here are some wonderful public speaking activities related to retaining the audience's attention.)