Editor's Note: This blog post was written and submitted by Jennifer Mullen at Indiana State University.
We all have those moments. Those moments when all eyes are on us and we feel as if every word that comes out of our mouth is about to be painted with judgement. As the sweat beads up along our foreheads or maybe even under our armpits, as our breathing gets shallow and maybe even as hives present themselves – physically affirming our nervousness, we can easily forget whom we are in a moment. We forget what we have to say, but we know it is important. All of a sudden, words become words and we become more concerned with getting them out than with the message we truly want to convey.
Do you remember the last time you were in that moment? Maybe it was in a job interview, or maybe it was when you were tasked with delivering a presentation to a group of suspecting individuals who sized you up in the first seven seconds upon entering a room. All eyes are you on you…No reason to be nervous…not one bit. You prepared for this moment but now here you are, overthinking... “Do they like me? What if I forget my train of thought and start rambling, oh, I’m doing that now. That was a dumb thing to say – why did I say that? I am having a bad hair day. I wonder if my outfit was a good choice.” Whatever is going on inside your head, the extra thoughts need to go away because if they don’t, they will drown you. You will forget who you are, you will forget your message, and you will ultimately lose your authenticity.
Authenticity is key to delivering a great message; it is also key to being memorable. It gives the audience a chance to see the “real” you. As a public speaking coach, I am not one to focus on the mechanics of a presentation. While mechanics are important, they tend to come naturally when someone is speaking with sincerity. Pause here, inflect here…those are not things I focus on when giving advice to those who speak to an audience. I remember coaching someone through their commencement speech, and one of the lines read, “this school has seen me at my worst and it has also seen me at my best.” The speaker was reading it aloud and I said, “Okay, stop. Re-read that last line. Now go there in your mind. Envision yourself in that dark place – think of it just briefly as your mind passes over the words. Don’t stay there too long, though, just long enough to feel the words. Now envision yourself in your best time. When you do that, your voice will express the feeling.” Your job as a presenter is to evoke emotions from your audience, and those emotions are contagious. From happy to sad to excited to all other emotions in between, you have the ability to make people feel a certain way. It is kind of fascinating how powerful words can be when used appropriately in an intended point in time for an intended audience.
In sum, here is my advice to those who are struggling with their brain getting ahead of their mouth – stop. Just stop and be in every moment you are in. Feel the words you are speaking. When you focus too much on the mechanics, words just become words and they can turn into monotone ones that put people to sleep. Remember that you have something to say, so say it with sincerity.