As you await your introduction to make that key note address many things may come into your mind. Typically you may second guess yourself and seek to change the thrust of your ideas, or maybe a headline in the mornings paper strikes you as apt and you look for a way to work it into your talk. You may feel nervous, start sweating.
But in the last few minutes before you’re about to give a big, important presentation, it’s really is too late to change the content of your speech. You should by this point have analyzed the audience, created well-designed slides, and rehearsed your presentation out loud, changing anything will only make your speech worse. Your nervous energy is there to be tapped into, and if you follow these tips you can really enliven your presentation.
So how can I put those last 20 minutes to the best use?
1. Check out the meeting room and audiovisual set-up. As the speaker, be sure you know the environment, including the seating arrangement, presentation electronics, microphone, and lighting. Get to the room early and ensure you’re comfortable with the set-up. This enables you to avoid tapping the mic and asking if people can hear you.
2. Meet and greet the audience before you speak. Shake hands and talk with as many people as possible ahead of time. Its displays that you’re approachable and personable. But more importantly having a conversation with your listeners ahead of time transforms scary ‘public’ speaking into natural relaxed ‘personal’ speaking.
3. Use the restroom. Thinking you may ‘have to go’ is a common reaction to anxiety and pre-speech jitters. Why take chances? Plan ahead and use the restroom in the moments prior to speaking.
4. Take several deep belly breaths. In the moments leading up to your presentation, breathe deeply and deliberately. Since anxiety tightens the muscles in the chest and throat, it’s important to diminish that restricting effect with deep inhalations. Don’t underestimate the power of a long slow deep breath. It maximizes the amount of oxygen that flows to the lungs and brain; interrupts the adrenalin-pumping “fight or flight” response; and triggers the body’s normal relaxation response.
5. Practice the first minute in your mind. Whatever you’re planning to say as the captivating opener rehearse the first few sentences several times. Clearly visualizing exactly how you’re going to start gives you confidence, enables you to look directly into the eyes of audience members as you begin (not at notes or at the slide behind you), and creates a powerful positive first impression.
6. Smile. Maintain a positive, pleasant expression on your face in the moments before you speak. A smile conveys confidence and self-assurance and helps relax your body. It shows your audience that you’re happy to see them and enthusiastic about your message.
7. Sip water that is either warm or room temperature, with lemon if possible. Removes that dry-mouth feeling, cuts through mucus buildup in the mouth, and clears the throat. Ensure a glass or bottle of water is within arm’s reach during your speech too.
Most speakers, beginners and veterans, readily admit to feeling nervous in the moments leading up to a speech or presentation. It may feel uncomfortable, but it’s completely natural and even necessary, and in these ways you are able to harness that energy into a great start to your presentation.