Sun-SnowThe weather on Friday was 75 and sunny. Two days later we have three inches of snow.  Flip flops one day, winter boots the other. It’s enough to throw anyone off their game. And that’s what it’s like being in the audience with an erratic presenter – someone who has no game plan, no road map, allows nervous tension to overtake their performance, all of which can make a speaker very self-absorbed.

I understand there may be a small percentage of humans who perform better without a net.  Actor John Singleton once said, “I’m so relaxed that I have to make myself nervous. I feel better when I’m second- and third-guessing myself over everything. I play with the mice in my head, all the time.”   OK, that’s fine, but John Singleton has a script, and rehearsals, and a director.  So if you have all those tools, then do your thing. Otherwise, it pays to ponder, prepare, practice and then present.

Ponder: My new favorite advice is from Craig Valentine, a Toastmaster’s World Champion who advises speakers to embrace the Mess so they can get to the Message. Spend time writing everything down – don’t worry what it reads like or sounds like, just make a big old mess. Go ahead and open up 15 tabs on your web browser and jump back and forth like it’s 1999.  This process is not orderly, but it’s a necessity.

Prepare: Now you’re ready for structure and a road map.  What works best for your audience? Have you researched your audience? No? That’s your next task. Can you make educated guesses about who will be in the room?  All of your new-found knowledge gets added to the mess you made in the previous stage, which then gets put into your storyboard.  You have to analyze now to amaze later.

Practice:  Perhaps you’ve seen my post on the perils of rehearsing in your head.  If not, here it is. The gist of it is this: unless you actually hear your voice saying the words you wrote down on your storyboard out loud (at a volume of 7 out of 10), you are not rehearsing.

Present:  Actors have a cool trick they use to ensure their best work shows up on screen. They choose a visual cue. Something easy to recall and easy to understand. For example, a friend of mine uses the visual cue of an ocean wave. He likes the energy, the movement and the grandeur of that image. That’s the last thing he brings to mind right before he hears the word “Action!”  What word, image, or phrase can you call to mind right before you go on stage that will summon your most organized, energized and edified self?

Want more great tips and tricks? This is the place: speakwellpartners.com.

Barbara is the author of Commit to Confidence: 30 Strategies to Help Women Step Up and Stand Out. She teaches at the Wharton School and the D’Amore-McKim School of Business.  She is also co-founder of SpeakWell Partners.