I was having a conversation with a client who is now an accomplished public speaker but who used to lose a lot of sleep whenever he had a talk coming up. He reminded me of an exercise we did in advance of a major talk he had to give to a large audience. I had asked him what his major worry was, given that he was the expert in the room on the topic he was going to speak about.
“Making a fool of myself,” he said.
“On the material or content?”
“No. I’m more worried about my voice getting squeaky or falling over as I walk on stage.”

He understood that the likelihood of a physical, slapstick mistake on his part was minimal, but now that the concept had entered his head, he just couldn’t shift it. He knew it was irrational, but the image kept popping up into his head.

We ended up doing visualisation exercises to overcome this. He lay back on the couch in my office [the quack is in!] and we built up a detailed picture of the stage and the auditorium. He was going to be introduced, get up from the speakers’ panel table, walk eight steps across the stage, shake hands with the MC and step to the podium.

There he would pick up his remote clicker, smile at the audience, click to his opening slide, wait for the affirmative nod from his colleague in the front row (planted there to reassure him and also to check that all the equipment was working) and launch into his very strong opening.

Simple huh?

Not to a panic-stricken speaker. Sometimes, not even to a comfortable, confident speaker. It is for this reason, I always recommend gaining access to the room you are going to be speaking in well in advance of your talk and having a good nose-around. Where are you going to be when you are introduced – at the back of the room, in the front row, off-stage or sitting at a speaker’s table? For example, if you have a long walk to your spot, you may need to get moving when the MC is winding up his introduction.

If you are using a laptop, where is it situated? There is no point in having the Presenter Tools turned on in PowerPoint if the computer is 30 feet away and you can’t see your speaking points.

What is the MC going to say as he/she introduces you? If it’s an in-house presentation, your boss may just need to say, “And here’s Jimmy with the P&L projections.” But if you are talking to a group who don’t know you or your topic, you need to be introduced. Otherwise, you spend your opening time talking about those kind of housekeeping issues.

Checking out the layout of the room, also allows you to identify the slapstick pitfalls – the loose cable, the low step, the creaky floorboard on the stage, the dead loudspeaker on the left side of the room. Own the room!