Simple Steps to Power Up Public Speaking

25 Feb

It’s not the Oscars, Grammys, or Emmy Awards by any stretch, but tomorrow, for the first time in quite some time, I’ll step up on a stage in front of a live audience to emcee my first prominent event in the big Atlanta ocean.  A transplant from Syracuse last May, the room will be filled with a sea of nearly 300 movers and shakers;  their faces unfamiliar to me, and mine unfamiliar to them.

It’s an honor to present 13 amazing women from across the country, and all walks of life and circumstances, scholarship money to complete their education. Some started last year, others 20 years ago.  The scholarships are made possible through Emerge, an organization empowering women through education.  We all deserve a second chance to get it right.  And sometimes, a third.

People ask me quite often, what was it like to anchor the news?  How do you look into a camera?  How do you get on a stage in front of a large audience and have confidence?  How do you memorize everything?  Where do you start?  What if you freeze?  What if you fail? Do you get nervous?

Anchoring is a tremendous amount of responsibility, cameras weigh about 8 pounds these days and have way too much power, getting on stage is nerve racking, I don’t memorize because I speak from the heart and, when needed, stick to copy, I start with the end in mind, I’m too focused to freeze, failure’s not an option, and YES, I GET NERVOUS!!!

Barbra Streisand once forgot her lyrics during in a concert in Central Park and stopped performing live for 30 years.

Adele pukes.

Rod Stewart gets nervous.

Laurence Olivier had to be pushed on stage.

Carly Simon poked herself with pins before a live performance.

Even Andrea Bocelli, the most popular Italian and classical singer in the world, suffers that sinking feeling before performing, a feeling he says often remains throughout his performance.  Even at 54.

Performance anxiety is indiscriminate, regardless of age, opportunity or venue.  It just happens. You think you’re ready, and BAM, your mind gets fuzzy, your body sweats, your mouth dries up and butterflies uncomfortably nest inside your body.  You’re drugged with fear.

Yet corporate wants your presentation, the audience is waiting, or people are depending on you to hold the event they’ve planned for an entire year…together.  So you will, and you can.

Anyone who’s ever spoken in public, especially in front of a large group, knows that sinking feeling an hour before a live TV show, event, or presentation.  The anxiety nudges your confidence, knowing the flow, the material, the message, the energy, the timing, the delivery, or the multi-million dollar contract is totally dependent – on YOU and your performance. Not to mention the added pressure that all eyes are on your face, your hair, your clothes, your presence, and usually often in my case, my five-inch heels. It’s the only way I can squeak past five feet tall so I look human above the podium, instead of a bobble head.

But what if you can wrap your head around having the stage presence to go out there with all the passion in your heart, and compassion in your soul, and give your audience something they never expected.  It’s the only way I know how to deliver.  With soul.  Passion.  And compassion.

Over the past 15 years, I’ve anchored thousands of hours of live newscasts, emceed hundreds of events, given dozens of presentations, and even delivered a commencement speech resulting in an unexpected standing ovation.  It’s not that it’s easy to do.  It’s just, well, people keep asking.  And so, I say yes.

So, after speaking to a couple of colleagues today who wanted advice on how to deal with performance anxiety, I thought I’d share a few quick tips I’ve learned about the art of public speaking.  Okay, maybe it’s not art.  But you can at least come to terms with it, and maybe even embrace it.

1. Nerves – Just like a player before a big game, use your nervous energy as positive energy.  It’s not that you’re afraid of the people in the audience any more than a running back is afraid of a football.  You’re afraid of the fear.  There’s nothing wrong with you.  Just your nerves have a little buzz going on.  Normal, normal, normal.

2. Dress in Classic, Elegant, MonotonesWhenever I give a presentation or emcee an event, I dress in camel or gray so to draw the audience to my face and message, not to draw them away with distracting prints, colors or jewelry.

3. Water – Is your best friend.  Drink water before any presentation or performance as it saturates your vocal chords.  Even if you don’t drink it during your gig, there’s comfort in knowing it’s there if you get tripped up.

4. Controlled Energy – Energy is contagious, engaging and commanding.  I’m not talking screeching, yelling or shouting.  Project, pronounce and perform your voice.  Get excited about your material and your audience will too.  Kind of like a football coach at ballet practice.  It’s all in the delivery, tone, and voice modulation.

5. Be Real – People dig real.  They get real.  They relate to real.  Fake is transparent.

6. Tell a Story – Life is a series of stories. People don’t remember dates.  They remember moments.  Your story is a chance to show your audience why their participation or attendance is important.  Your story is bridge that connects you to your audience.

7. Know your Material – Your audience is only as comfortable as you are.  You’re only as comfortable as your material.

8. Grab their Amygdala – The amygdala are raisin-shaped organs above both ears.  It’s the ‘fear or flight’ part of the body that instantly tells the brain if a bee or fly is on your leg.  You have about 30 seconds to grab the amygdala of your audience to hold their interest.  Maybe a minute.  Make it count.  The amygdala is also the part of your brain that’s making you nervous.  The very part of your brain that captivates your audience, gets your nerves in a tizzy.  Funny how that works.

9. Know your Facial Acuity – The face emits a plethora of powerful data connecting (or disconnecting in some cases) you to your audience, signaling your sincerity, genuineness and trustworthiness.  It is the most engaging, intriguing and interesting part of our being.  Facial acuity is not about makeup, full lips or a chiseled chin.   It’s about connection.  Think Jack Nicholson, who knows exactly what to do with his face to make grass growing or paint drying seem interesting.  Like an actor on a Red Carpet, know what your face is doing.  Put your best face forward.

10. Smile – We’re not talking Miss America here.  We’re talking a chat with a good friend who hasn’t seen you in a while and wants to hear all about it.  Genuine, sincere, engaging smiles are home runs.

11. Open Body Language – Open your arms, directing the flow of energy to the audience.  They’ll receive your energy and give it back to you when you do this.  And the bond is set in place.

12. Be Kind – To your audience and to yourself.  Value your audience’s time and stay on time.  People  always have some place to be and they choose to be with you.  Additionally, be kind to yourself.  Most people in the audience know darn well they’d rather have you up there than them.  For that reason alone, they’re more forgiving and compassionate for your imperfections than you give them credit.

13. Stay on Time – If you’re given 7 minutes or 70, go under time budget.  The audience will appreciate you valued their time, leaving them a little more time for them to thank you for a job well done.

For more information about Emerge Scholarships, empowering women to continue their education, log onto

4 Responses to “Simple Steps to Power Up Public Speaking”

  1. Shawn Thomas February 26, 2013 at 6:04 pm #

    Great post, Adamo!

    > >

  2. Laura Wischoff Snyder February 28, 2013 at 11:49 am #

    Donna – you were an amazing emcee for Emerge! Every single person I spoke to after our event commented on YOU! You offered the perfect blend of personal reflection, comedic timing, poise and as always genuine beauty and warmth! Several people actually said they donated to Emerge BECAUSE of YOU! Thank you so much for all you have done to support our organization.

  3. Keith Bowman March 2, 2013 at 10:50 am #

    Ms. Adamo, I had the honor of watching you be the hostess of ceremonies at the recent Emerge Scholarship Luncheon. I was taken by your ability to captivate an audience that large, leaving many of us wanting more. You were a classy mix of Grace Kelly with a touch of Ellen DeGeneres. I hope we get to see more of you somewhere in the future. Syracuse’s loss is Atlanta’s gain. Good luck! Keith

  4. dadamo102 May 18, 2014 at 10:56 pm #

    Thank you for your kind comments. Working on a new blog which will post on Monday! Check it out! Donna

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