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Article - What To Say When You Have Stage Fright!

from "What to Say When You're Dyin' On the Platform!" by LillyWalters (McGraw Hill) -

Hilarious "saver" lines, and strategies to avoid disasters, from interviews with over 130 top speakers, entertainers, and trainers. A major choice of the Executive Program Book Club. It was selected as one of the top most valuable books ever written for professional speakers.
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You Forget Your Talk or Freeze During the Talk

 My first speech-a magnificent piece entitled "We Are DiggingOur Graves with Our Mouths"-consisted of seven foolscap (foolproof)pages of double-spaced typed script. And I had it word perfect. The bigday arrived. It was held in a country town School of Arts building-a hugecorrugated iron shed with a stage 4 feet from the ground. When my name wascalled, there I was hanging onto my seven pages like grim death. I walkedout onto the 4-foot stage and faced the audience; 200 eyes staring at me;200 ears waiting for my words of wisdom. I neatly arranged my book on thelectern* provided and stated,

"Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen"

At that precise moment somebody opened the back door of the School ofArts hall, and the next thing I remember is seeing my magnificent seven-pagespeech flying out into the crowd like seven magnificent birds in all directions.The next two important words to come from me: "Thank you."

And so I ended my brilliant career as a public speaker.*

-Doug Malouf

When I was asked to lead a church service one Sunday in order to sparethe pastor's voice for the sermon, I noticed that he had the Lord's Prayerpasted on the lectern. It is possible to forget anything apparently.



To Prevent It from Happening

I have three times seen speakers freeze. Two of those were speakers considered by many-including myself-to be patriarchs of the speaking industry. Oddly, in both cases they looked out at the audience and said, "I'm sorry, I don't know what I'm doing here." Thinking back about those moments, I say to myself, "There but for the grace of God go I."

You will usually forget your talk for one of four reasons:

1. You are underprepared.

2. You get sidetracked from your planned talk.

3. You get stage fright and freeze.

4. You are extremely overtired or emotionally distraught.

If you don't have the time to prepare properly, use lots of notes. (Yes, I think notes are all right.) If you must use notes, try putting them into the form of a workbook or handout. Audiences like handouts-they help people retain information. Also, a handout or workbook gets you organized, on track, and safe from forgetfulness.

You get sidetracked when you don't have your objectives firmly in your mind. Go back and define exactly what you want to accomplish. (See the next section of this chapter.)

You can "freeze" and panic when you don't prepare properly. Seventy-five percent of your stage fright problems will be cured with proper preparation. (See the appropriate section in Chapter 6 to polish your delivery.)

Being tired, ill, or emotionally upset can be a great distraction to a speaker. (Review the appropriate sections covered later in this chapter to help deal with these issues.)

What to Do


Say nothing. Silence is golden. Take this golden opportunity to allow people to think, while you gather your thoughts.

Make a lightly humorous comment.

Launch into a discussion exercise while you gather yourself together. (See Chapter 5 for examples. You will see suggestions for audience participation repeated many times in this book. Keeping several up your sleeve at all times is one of the most valuable tools you can have.)

Take a drink of water. You know your mind is blank-they think you are thirsty. And the longer your mind is blank, the thirstier you are!


I always carry a bunch of props that I can use in what I call "go to" situations.


What to Say


Let me change the pace of the talk for a moment. Turn to the person next to you and share the single most important or impactful idea you have heard in the last month, relating to our topic today. Then I will ask you to volunteer the ideas you have collected. You have only 5 minutes for this exercise so please begin immediately. (Now, go look up your notes.)




My mind is wandering and my tongue's following it!



I'm a bit addled. Please hold on until I get my bearings.


Sometimes silence says a lotbut not this time.

If any of you have heard me speak before, you can go on to the next thought or help me out here.

Have any of you ever had amnesia and déjà vu at the same moment? I have totally forgotten where I was going, but have been blessed by an entirely new direction.

I have a great memory, but it's short.

Some days I speak on optimal performance; other days I can't even say it.


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