Updated: Nov 10, 2020
As a senior producer at Chicago's Fox station for many years, I helped prepare many people for live interviews, often in the seconds before they went on air. Most showed up prepared, but a TV set can be intimidating and more than a few fell apart on camera — I even had a guest faint once!
Seeing yourself on a monitor, especially if you see something you don't like, is intensely distracting. The same distractions can occur when presenting publicly or in a smaller, networking situation. In fact, I recently held my first master class in Chicago, teaching professionals how to overcome any and all challenges that we often face when speaking publicly and doing a live interview.
"Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect," to quote legendary coach Vince Lombardi. The good news is you can overcome! Beyond being prepared, here are five tips I use in my training with executives and clients to help them calm nerves, remember key points and be effective:
Remember you are not alone.
It's no secret that many of us suffer from public speaking anxiety. A select minority is very comfortable in public forums.
I believe Michelle Obama has learned to be comfortable in these settings. She uses techniques like elevating her speech and tone to draw listeners into the story. Obama is especially effective in harnessing the power of the pause — deciding where and when to pause in a speech or interview to underscore a point.
A colleague of mine, a Chicago broadcast veteran, reviews his scripts or presentations in advance, using a marker to underline where he wants to emphasize a word or phrase and indicating where to pause for effect.
The 'why' is the most important part of any story.
Regardless of if you have written your remarks or had help from a public relations (PR) professional, keep in mind that the "who, what, when, where and how" are background details. The reporter or your audience wants to know the "why."
Look at your message points and make sure they answer "why." Why are you doing this and what makes it unique? Why are you different from the competition? Tell your story from an outline with bullet points or notecards to help you time it out and share the news in manageable nuggets.
Learn the bridge.
Bridging from an interview question to key messages is an important tip to get back to your main points. An effective way to become adept at bridging is to practice, face to face. Reading a Q&A document is not the same as being questioned in front of an audience or microphone. Many executives don't have the time to do live practice, but I find that those who do never regret it.
Take 30 minutes to brainstorm potential questions and prep some bridge responses on your specific topic. Remember, "no comment" isn't acceptable and can imply you are hiding something. A better response is "I can't talk about that right now, but what I can say is …" Or if you are caught off guard and aren't prepared, promise to reply later with an answer (this is situational and doesn't apply to a live interview).
Lead with a story or anecdote.
Be a relatable spokesperson or presenter by establishing common ground with your audience. Show your personality and lead with a personal example or description of why it matters. The key is to allow your passion to shine, which will happen if you are comfortable with your content.
If you aren't a natural joke teller, don't attempt one during a live interview or speech. Visualize infusing your opening statement with energy. If you are doing a live TV story, think ahead to the visuals you can share. For radio, audio is king and your story will be stronger if you can provide some interesting sounds to supplement it. Lastly, remember you are telling a story and need a strong beginning, middle and ending.
It's a conversation.
Reframe your thinking of the interview or presentation as a conversation. Remember to practice active listening versus defensive listening and rely on your expertise. If you are two steps ahead and not listening to the question or feedback, it shows, and your response will be unsatisfactory. You are invited to speak because you are the expert; use your power to draw people into your presentation.
Practice talking in soundbites. Record yourself presenting or answering questions and listen to your response to see how effective you think it is. Keep brand mentions to a minimum — two or three times — as you would in a normal conversation.
One key I can't emphasize enough is to drink water, drink water, drink water! Before a speech or interview, your body produces stress-related hormones that can cause a host of unpleasant responses — dry mouth, sweaty palms, shaking hands or voice, pounding heart, loss of breath. Visualizing a positive performance and deep breathing can help calm you down. See your success, set expectations, believe it and you will make it happen!