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All About You: Trusted techniques for tackling stage fright

All About You by Richard Hawk

EDITOR’S NOTE: Motivating employees to work safely is part of the safety professional’s job. But who motivates the motivator? In this monthly column, veteran safety pro and professional speaker Richard Hawk offers his entertaining brand of wisdom to inspire safety pros to perform at their best.

Do you get stage fright when you give a safety presentation or conduct a safety meeting? Many people do.

Although I get excited and maybe a bit nervous when trying out new material on an audience, at this point in my speaking career I don’t get those notorious butterflies in my stomach before I go on the platform. That doesn’t mean I’m cocky about my abilities.

If you experience stage fright, you can use several techniques to quell it – many of which I use because they also improve my delivery.

Prepare and practice

Even if you’re an expert on a subject, unless it’s a training class you give regularly, make sure you take plenty of time to prepare and practice. If the material is new or on a topic you don’t have deep knowledge about, you’ve got to review it and rehearse your presentation. Sometimes when I’m at a local sporting club of which I’m a member, I’ll practice a new story by telling it to my buddies. (Because they can tell I’m practicing my delivery, more than once I’ve heard, “How much money am I getting to listen to you?”)

Of course, you can also rehearse by yourself. I usually go through all my slides and pretend an audience is in front of me. How many times should you rehearse a presentation? It depends on your experience and skill level. However, when I’m presenting new material, I rehearse several times. I suggest you save your slides as a PDF and send them to your phone. That way, you’ll have them with you most of the time, which will give you more opportunities to practice.

Greet and ‘hang out’ with your audience before you start

The “warm-up” is my favorite way to reduce any nervousness I have and get revved up before a talk. Going around the room and shaking hands, sharing some humorous banter, and just getting to know as many people as possible goes a long way toward making you comfortable with your audience. It also endears them to you before you even take the stage. It’s important to avoid seeming arrogant – audiences don’t like that.

When I was a full-time safety and health professional, I always did a warm-up, even when I was giving a short safety meeting to co-workers I knew well.

Look at one person at a time

Speaking before an audience, especially a large one, can be intimidating. Speaking to one person, however, is easy. Don’t sweep across your audience. Doing so will make it seem like a “group” is before you. Instead, give steady eye contact to one person at a time, and hold it long enough that they realize you’re connecting with them. There’s no set pattern, and you don’t have to look at each person for the same length of time – just choose different people and give them a brief gaze.

This tactic also makes your presentation more personal. When I host my “Spice It Up!” presentation skills seminar, I sometimes spend more than an hour helping attendees master this skill. It’s that important.

Take a few moments to notice your breathing

Whenever you’re feeling fear or other negative emotions, focusing on your breathing will calm you. Although I don’t use this technique right before I go on stage, I do notice my breathing before I go around the room greeting attendees. It centers my thinking, too.

Expect to hit a home run

If you’ve prepared and rehearsed well, believe the talk or meeting will be a hit. Audiences want a speaker to do a bang-up job. They’re rooting for you before you start. And like anything in life, having a positive, confident attitude about your performance goes a long way in making it happen – and reduces stage fright.

This article represents the views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

Richard Hawk helps safety professionals become better leaders through his keynotes, workshops, articles and books so they can create vibrant safety cultures. His popular “Mindfully Safe” keynote teaches employees how to focus better and improve their situational awareness, a key skill to preventing incidents. To contact Richard, visit

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