In the first week of December I visited Cambridge (UK) where I participated in a conference. One of the speakers asked me how to deal with nervousness and asked me for that one tip that would steady her nerves. I gave her some unconventional advice: make your audience wait.
Before speaking I told her to pour herself a glass of water on stage and in front of her audience – slowly. Then she should have a sip from it and only when completely ready put the glass back down and start to speak. This sequence of events does the following:
- It slows things down. Too many speakers dive straight in and rattle and ramble from the beginning.
- It establishes control. You give the appearance that you are going to do your speech at your pace, not someone else’s.
- It makes the audience anticipate. An audience needs to be ready before you begin, essentially asking itself “What is the speaker going to say”. It is a powerful way to get things started.
The video clip below is a great example of a speaker making his audience wait. The shuffling of papers, the slow walk, the deliberate pause: all of it builds an enormous amount of tension in the audience. The glass-of-water trick does the same.
So how did the speaker do? She did great, but with a twist. While pouring the glass of water she was telling her audience why she was doing it! It made everybody laugh and that broke the ice. The rest of her performance was top-notch.