6 Things I Do In The 15 Minutes Before a Big Speech

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I give about 150 speeches a year, in front of audiences ranging from 30 people to over 3,000. The Business Insider article “12 Things You Should Do In The 15 Minutes Before A Big Presentation” is actually pretty great! But I have six more things to add.

  1. Number one is number one. BI had this on their list too, but I can’t stress it enough. The sensation that you have to go pee is magnified by stress, and it plays hell with giving a good speech. Never miss a chance, etc.
  2. Be OK with wanting to run away. It doesn’t always happen, but a few times per year, I feel a wild panic and desire to just take off and not do the talk. It has nothing to do with the audience, how prepared I am, or the fact that I’ve done this a thousand times. Speaking to a large group is a genuine act of vulnerability, and we ALL get freaked out from time to time. The key is to realise that this kind of panic attack is perfectly normal, and that helps you conquer it!
  3. Don’t chit-chat before the event, if you’re an introvert.  Most people assume that only extroverts are public speakers, but that’s completely untrue. Extroverts gain energy by being around other people, introverts gain energy by being alone. I am very introverted, and several of the best speakers I know are even more so! We are perfectly fine at getting up in front of a crowd, and we can seem very dynamic. But that is an expenditure of our energy, and running down my batteries in the minutes BEFORE the actual speech is a terrible idea for me. Although the BI article says the opposite, as much as possible (you don’t want to be rude) don’t talk to the audience, don’t talk to your organizers, and don’t talk to your colleagues.
  4. Read a book for five minutes, if you’re an introvert. Charge your batteries instead. Get quiet, comfortable, and go away to some place in your head by reading something that has nothing to do with your subject matter. You should budget the five minutes of reading so that you have ten minutes before your talk to bring your energy level back up, but I always have a book with me. Browsing the web or going through social media is not the same. For what it is worth, I have a hunch that a paper book is more calming and immersive than a tablet or eReader, and that fiction is better than non-fiction.
  5. Take the temperature of the room. Not in some psychological assessment way. If it is warm, or there are bright lights, you run the risk of over-heating. Talking is work, and having sweat run down your face won’t make your speech more convincing. And regardless of how the audience perceives it, if you’re not comfortable, you will give a less good talk. Too cold can also be a problem: speaking in public is frightening, and the blood vessels in your hands and feet will constrict due to adrenaline. You won’t get frostbite, but it can be distracting. Wear a sweater.
  6. Run 50 kilometers. No, not in the 15 minutes before your speech. 🙂  Did you know chess Grandmasters train for their matches by distance running? I find a 60 minute talk takes about as much work or energy as running a 10 km race (6 miles.) I find that when I am running 50 km a week or more, public speaking gets MUCH easier for me, especially towards the end of a talk when it is easy for your energy level to flag. You may not have my specific speaking style (which tends to the hyper), but an increased fitness level will help you give a better presentation.

That’s it: break a leg, knock them dead, and have fun!

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One response to “6 Things I Do In The 15 Minutes Before a Big Speech”

  1. Derek A. Lackey says :

    all very valid thoughts Duncan. While not experienced a speaker, I have noticed that different people require different routines. I love ‘clearing’ with someone – just telling them everything I am concerned about – anything that happened during the day that could have my attention diverted during my talk. I also get crystal clear about my objectives and how I want to leave people as a result of my talk – what do I want them to do right away. This works for me I am an extrovert – it may not be everyone’s cup to tea. Thanks for the opportunity to think about this.

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