Public Speaking

15 public speaking tips from improv pros

Public Speaking

Public Speaking

You’re not alone if the thought of delivering a maid of honour speech, giving a work presentation, or facing down a job recruiter makes your hands tremble, heart race and stomach knot. Getting up in front of a crowd consistently ranks high in our fears, as does going to job interviews.

But you can come across as being completely sure of yourself, even if you can’t completely shake the jitters. We asked top improv and standup comedians how they keep their cool when taking the mic in front of a tough crowd. Try their tricks, and you’ll be chilled and confident no matter how big or intimidating your audience may seem.

1. Find a theme song

“I listen to Uptown Funk backstage before every show and in the elevator before any audition. It’s not the best song in the world, but it gets my adrenaline to the perfect level: I’m not too hyped up to where I make mistakes; it’s just enough for me to be able to say to myself, ‘You got this, dawg. You own this.’ Any song that can make you feel that way is worth taking a few minutes to listen to before having to appear in front of an audience.” – Alison Levering, performer at People’s Improv Theatre, New York.

2. Commit to it

“Be honest. Be true to yourself. Be in the moment and commit 100 per cent! Even if something doesn’t work, you can comment on it honestly by making fun of the line or yourself.” – Andy Engel, founder and owner of Manhattan Comedy School
Tip number four – body language is key.
Alon Harel

Tip number four – body language is key.

3. Know your sh*t

“Confidence in speaking comes from understanding what you are talking about and knowing that what you are saying has value. In this way, we trick ourselves into transferring the focus of our worry from the self to the message.” – Miles Stroth, actor, comedian and owner of the Miles Stroth Workshop, Los Angeles

4. Stand strong

“People are smarter than you think and will know pretty quickly if you’re shovelling BS. Body language is the key: Speak straight and stand strong. Don’t shuffle around, put your hands in your pockets or fidget. Plant your feet firmly and maintain eye contact with the crowd. You’ll feel terrified and bulletproof at the same time.” – John Hickey, performer at Zanies Comedy Clubs

5. Memorise a mantra

“I have a mantra: ‘No matter what happens, in 24 hours this will all be over’. It helps lower the stakes and keep my brain from spinning into all the terrible things that might happen. Things will probably be fine, but even if it is a nightmare, tomorrow life will be back to business as usual. Use this or whatever mantra allows you to put your speaking event into perspective.” – Katy McEwen, associate artistic director, performer, and teacher at Brave New Workshop Theatre, Minneapolis

6. Don’t be a slave to the script

“Do the show that’s in front of you, not the one in your head. If you’re in your head and your attention is on your script, then you are missing out on being present and attentive to what’s happening in the here and now. Instead notice how the crowd reacts and what else is going on, and adjust as necessary.” – Greg Dean, owner of Greg Dean’s Stand-Up Comedy Workshops

7. Remember why it matters

“A few minutes before you present, remind yourself in one sentence why you care about what you are going to say, which can rekindle your passion for the message. The more important the words are to you, the more important others will perceive them as being.” – Matt Hovde, artistic director at The Second City Training Centre

8. Believe

“If you believe in yourself 100 per cent, the people you are speaking to will too. It’s like putting on a suit of total confidence and wearing it the entire time you are in front of your audience. Zone out the doubt and fear, and tell yourself, ‘I got this’ until you believe it. Then exhale.” – Megan Gray, artistic director at the Magnet Theatre, New York

9. Get excited

“People focus far too much on what they are saying and far too little on how they are saying it. If you want to get an audience excited, choosing the right words to tell them to be excited will be far less impactful than actually being excited about your subject.” – Caleb McEwen, artistic director, performer, and emcee at Brave New Workshop Theatre

10. Forget about yourself

“Stop thinking too much about yourself and what you’re saying, how you look saying it and what people are thinking about you. It’s easier to be less self-conscious if you put all your energy and thoughts onto the other person or audience. You will be more aware of your surroundings, and you will be able to listen to your audience better and take in all the cues your audience is giving you, such as smiles, laughter, applause or nodding that they understand. This will make you a better speaker and therefore more confident.” – Kerri Louise, comedian and instructor at Levity Live, New York

11. Notice others’ flaws

“When I was learning how to perform as a new standup comedian, I would watch others speak and perform, and learn from their mistakes (or what I felt were mistakes) more than what from what I liked or thought was good. I found the negative things more tangible and clear to observe. The more you see that and make sure not to do it, the stronger a performer you become just by the process of elimination.” – Ricky Gonzalez, comedian and instructor at The Lincoln Lodge, Chicago

12. Be sincere

“What comes from the heart goes to the heart. If you speak from the heart, you don’t have to worry about being confident because you will be truthful, and that trumps confidence.” – Ali Reza Farahnakian, founder of the People’s Improv Theatre

13. Start with a pause

“Always take a moment to centre yourself before you begin to speak. Get in a comfortable, balanced position on stage with your legs slightly spread. Before you begin to speak, take a breath and gently scan your audience with sincere eye contact. Then begin. This should only take two to three seconds, but it can make all the difference in a presentation.” – Randy Lubas, performer and owner of Ventura Harbour Comedy Club, California

14. Practice. And then practice some more

“The No. 1 reason people lack confidence in their public speaking is because they are unprepared. Those incredibly funny, likeable, seemingly spontaneous performers you are watching are delivering material that’s been written and rewritten and rewritten until it works like a charm. Put in the time to prepare your remarks and then rehearse them until you feel comfortable with both the content and delivery. You’ll know when you are ready.” – Stephen Rosenfield, director of American Comedy Institute

15. Just be you

“Be yourself on stage. It’s one of the hardest things to do, but it’s easily the most rewarding, with the biggest payoff. There are many great speakers and performers in the world, and some are probably better than you. But no one is better being you than you. People want you to be yourself.” – Mac Gostow, associate producer at ImprovBoston

Article originally appeared in Greatist.

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