Before I share that story, let me tell you another story.
I played music in a band for about 15 years. We toured the east and west coast of America as well as Japan. We even opened for some pretty great bands – Vampire Weekend, My Chemical Romance, and Hot Hot Heat.
Getting up on stage to perform in hundreds of shows should stamp down any fear of public speaking. Or so you’d think. That’s what I thought when I was preparing, or rather, not preparing my speech for my brother’s wedding.
I read a lot of blogs about how to construct a perfect best man speech. I thought the blogs made it look kind of corny and I wanted to come up with something touching and from the heart – something that would be meaningful and would make the attendees tear up because we love each other so much.
The time had come, the ceremony was over, and the reception was in full swing. I clinked my water glass loudly and stood up to give my speech. But the words would not come. I looked out at all of the faces – most of them I knew already. Why was I having such a hard time? I couldn’t breathe, literally.
So I started to take deep breaths. 300 people stared on in silence. You could literally hear me heaving to get more oxygen in. When that didn’t work, I figured I’d do anything to take the attention off my breathing. I must get through this I thought. So I started the speech.
I told a story about how my brother had saved me from a bully in elementary school. Then I heaved some more. My brother looked on, horrified. But he kept encouraging me with his head nods and smiles.
Next I started talking about how his wife was very lucky to have such a solid protector in her life. I made some other comments about him being a solid guy and sat down while the audience reluctantly clapped.
I started to calm down. My face was red. I could feel my face pounding to the beat of my heart. I stood down and the music restarted. I drank a sip of iced water. I knew I had blown it. But I got through it.
Next time I’m asked to give a speech I will follow the rules in Scott Berkun’s book “Confessions of a Public Speaker.”
“The thing speakers obsess about are the opposite of what the audience cares about. They want to be entertained, they want to learn. And most of all, they want you to do well.” – Berkun
Had I taken the time to really consider what was being asked of me I would have prepared more.
“Don’t ask people to listen to something you haven’t listened to yourself. Just do it. You cannot delete an hour of waste time from people’s lives.” – Berkun
Next time I’ll take my phone and set it up to record myself. That way I’ll know how I’m coming across. I’ll have rehearsed the speech, seen it, edited it, and made it better.
“Confidence, not perfection is the goal.” – Berkun
I would have done better to calm myself before the speech. Even the author, a professional public speaker, still suffers from the fear response.
“Since I respect my body’s unstoppable fear responses, I have to go out of my way to calm down before I give a presentation.” – Berkun
Peter Fonda, the famous actor, experienced such stage fright that he would vomit before every single performance.
At least I didn’t vomit on the guests at my brother’s wedding. Hindsight is 20/20.
“Had I known then what I know now. I would have acted differently.” – Les Brown
There’s no going back so there’s no use beating myself up over this poor performance. Bottom line is, even if you’re used to getting up on a stage and entertaining crowds of people, public speaking is a whole different animal. But it doesn’t have to be scary. I should have practiced more. Then I should have recorded my performance and watched it for any places I could edit it.
Then again the guests at the wedding probably forgot about it.
“Most people listening to presentations around the world right now are hoping their speakers will end soon. That’s all they want.” – Berkun
I hope this tale of shame encourages you to take your public speaking seriously and practice, record, view, edit, and practice some more. Contact me if you want to share your public speaking horror story with me. I’d love to commiserate 🙂