Stress and Holiday Speeches

By Byron Pulsifer, ©2006

Dry mouth, shaking knees, headache, and perspiring profusely. Does this sound familiar? From hundreds of interviews, I've found that being asked to give a speech is one of the greatest stressors at work.

Depending on your work environment, however, you probably can't avoid making that holiday address to your co-workers, or employees forever. So, how do you handle this stressful situation?

Some people would have you believe that all you have to do in pretend that your audience isn't there, or to pretend that you're talking to a group of first graders. Nothing can be further from the truth.

In the simplest of terms, giving a speech requires preparation - lots of it especially if this is your first speech. Very few of us, unless we're experienced public speakers, can wing it off the top. And, even if you can wing it, it's probably because you're talking about something you've either talked about before, or you are able to grab snippets of information from other addresses.

Let's assume you are asked to make a few remarks for a pre-holiday get together and dance. Here are a few nifty tips to help you make it through that first holiday speech:
1. Keep it short, after all, you're not there to campaign for public office. All you need is a few paragraphs that: a) thank everyone for attending, b) acknowledge the work done by staff personnel to make all the necessary preparations for your evening, c) name the individuals (make sure you have ALL the names) involved in the preparation stopping after each name for applause, d) announce any special information that people need to know; for example, where the washrooms are located, when the music, or band will start, how the meal will be served by table, or is a smorgasbord where everyone lines up by table number, if door prizes or other prizes will be announced, and end your address with best wishes to enjoy their evening accompanied by sincere wishes for a safe and happy holiday period.

2. Write out the entire speech - don't skip a word. Write it so it is at least double-spaced so if you have to read portions (like people's names) you can easily find them on the page. It is also a good idea to use a coloured highlighter to mark their names so they are easy to see.

3. Once you have every word written, practice giving your address in private reading aloud. At this time, highlight (with a different colour than used for names) any words where you want to emphasize, or pause, or significantly change your tone or loudness). The idea here is to give yourself as many clues as possible so you won't forget them in the heat of the moment.

4. Remember preparation. You can never read your speech too often, or practice too many times. When I practiced in preparation to give a short seminar, I would rehearse the full seminar at least eight times. The important point here is that you want to become so familiar with your speech that you could recite it word for word in your sleep. You want to make it good, don't you? So, practice, practice, and practice. Obviously, I'm not talking about just rehearsing the night before, or two days before. I'm talking about at least two weeks before - especially if this is your first time. Give yourself ample time to feel totally at ease.

5. Another little trick that I used was to dress exactly the way I would for the event. This technique ensures that you are not only totally comfortable with what you are going to say, but totally comfortable physically as well.

6. If you have a spouse, partner, children, or a close friend, rehearse your speech in front of them. There is nothing like someone else watching your every move, listening to every word to give you that sense of "your on" feeling.

7. If you are going to give your speech at the start of the event, refrain any caffeine (coffee, tea, coke) as these will exaggerate all the stress responses. If you are prone to perspiring, arrive early and make sure the heat is turned down a few degrees, or the air conditioning is on. If you can't do this, open any doors or windows.

8. And, here's another little trick I learned. Make sure you have water handy, and not cold water. Sip room temperature or warm water - this will keep your vocal chords relaxed.

9. Don't drink alcohol at least twenty-four hours before, and don't light that cigarette just before you give your speech. These will only make matters worse. Wait until your finished.

10. And, last of all, take a few deep breathes before you start. Look for a friendly face to focus on when you start. I'm talking about somebody that is either smiling at you, or you know very well and feel totally comfortable with. At the very least, focus on this person for your first few sentences, then let your gaze go to the back of the room. Try and speak to the left side, then centre and then right side of the room so you give the appearance that you are including everyone in your address.

Even after all your practice, you're sure to have a few butterflies. This is good. A little anticipation keeps the spark in your words. Butterflies? You bet but the secret, from all your rehearsals, is that you can get the butterflies to fly in formation.

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