Avoid the Apology
I would say the most common thing I see from my students is the tendency to walk up to the front, and tell us all the reasons why their talk is going to suck!
I haven’t really prepared anything.
I’m not good at public speaking.
This isn’t something I’d normally do.
I was going to talk about this other thing, but I changed my mind.
I didn’t know I was going to be speaking today.
These are the most common opening statements I hear in my classes, and they’re really just products of nervous energy. Most people are very uncomfortable with speaking in public, so when they walk up to the front to speak, they have to release that energy somehow. In their minds, what better way to do it than to explain to the audience members the reason they shouldn’t expect too much? That takes the pressure off the speaker, right?
In actuality, these nervous opening statements make speaking more difficult, because they put you into a negative pattern right from the start. This means that something good has to happen in order to move you from a negative mindset and into a positive one, instead of you already being on a high note.
What you do or say on the way to the stage is critical, because your audience is forming an impression about you right from the start, even as you walk up and take your place front and center. What should you say on your way to the front? Nothing! When your name is called, you walk up to the front of the room, or onto the stage, sporting a huge smile, and step into the Spotlight like you own the place. Take your position in front of your audience, give them a moment to form their first impression of you, and then begin.
In the spring of 2010, I had the opportunity of being the motivational speaker at the 114th graduation ceremony of ‘Willis College of Business and Technology’ in Ottawa. There were between 500 and 600 people there, along with delegates, political figures and members of the press. I was sitting in the front row while I awaited my time to speak, but the front row was about fifty feet from the stage. Between the front row and the stage was quite an expanse of floor, lots and lots of floor.
The room was set up this way because some ceremonial activities had been conducted in that open floor space a little earlier in the day. This meant that when they introduced me, the walk to the stage felt like I was walking down the hall to the gas chamber. I was only half-way to the stage by the time the applause generated by my introduction had ended. This left me with a walk of twenty-five feet or so to reach the short stairs, to climb up to the stage level, and to get across the stage, where the podium awaited me. I had to complete this trek in a rather uncomfortably silent room. Believe me, that’s a long walk in front of such a large crowd.
A simple walk to a platform, to the front of a room, or to the center of a stage can be an ominous walk. The distance can seem overwhelming, and if there’s a complete silence, it can be absolutely painful. But remember, as a speaker, anything you say during that walk is more likely to hurt you than help you, therefore, say nothing.
So, what’s the lesson? Walk to the stage, the podium or to the front of the room like you own the place, and say nothing until you’re ready to begin your talk.