Insider advice for professional speaking: Part 1 Appearing confident

Spotlight on stage
The stage is set. The lights are dim. They're all waiting for you.

Whether you're speaking professionally or acting on stage, performances can be nerve-racking, even for professionals.

As a theatre actor, I had butterflies in my stomach at the start of nearly every show. Over time, I learnt to minimise this nervousness and become confident in front of audiences. I also learnt the keys to voice projection and how to captivate audiences.

Now, let me take you backstage into the world of performing arts and share with you some tricks to help you become a more effective and engaging public speaker. This will also help you speak well in other high-pressure situations like meetings and even speaking tests. 

Managing nervousness

Adopt a persona

Be someone different from your normal self while onstage. For example, if you're usually a nervous person, pretend to be someone confident and in control. You can even create a stage name for this new persona, like David Bowie did.

Be prepared to ad lib

All good actors know their lines, but the best ones are ready to continue even when things don't go as planned. In a presentation context, this could mean losing your train of thought while speaking, or being asked questions that differ from your core subject.

Rehearse before the show

Practice your performance—lines and cues—multiple times. If working with other people, ensure you rehearse together. It also pays to know your partner's lines (i.e., what they will talk about), just in case they forget them onstage and need prompting.

Only you know the script

If you say the wrong line, only you know it's a mistake. The audience thinks it's part of the show. Similarly, what feels like a long pause to you is actually small to an observer and will likely go unnoticed by the audience.

Final thoughts 

Speaking in a high-pressure situation takes practice, and it is totally fine to feel nervous. However, it is best to hide your nervousness as much as possible. Appear confident, or "fake it till you make it".

So, adopt the persona of a confident person, ad lib, rehearse and don't worry if you go off-script. If you are preparing for a speaking test, then don't rehearse specific words but instead practice common expressions and lines of reasoning, as outlined in the Speaking Test Strategies course. 

Join us next week to learn about speaking clearly

nerve-racking [adjective]—something that makes you very nervous.
to have butterflies in your stomach [idiomatic phrase]—to be nervous.
to captivate [verb]—to attract and fascinate people.
backstage [noun]—the section behind a stage where preparations are done for a show.
persona [noun]—the character or personality you show to other people, which might be different from your real one.
to ad lib [verb]—to improvise. 
to lose your train of thought [idiomatic phrase]—to forget what you were saying.
lines [noun plural]—words in a script.
cues [noun plural]—signals for the next line or action in a script.
prompting [noun]—saying or doing something to remind an actor of their next line.
script [noun]—the words in a play.
to fake it till you make it [idiomatic phrase]—to pretend to be able to do something until you learn how to actually do it.