6 Things to Do Before You Go Onstage

Part of Public Speaking Skills For Dummies Cheat Sheet

You’ve written your speech, practiced it, and you’re ready to get up there and present. Surprise, surprise — you have a few things to do, or at least check, first.

Make a checklist and be organized

Even though you’ve practiced, you need to have the written speech with you. It could be the entire speech on a piece of paper or just the main points on a cue card. Make sure you have everything you need onstage with you and ready to go. Your slide deck if you’re using it. Props. Bring water, even if you think they’ll have some for you.

Whether you have your main points on cue cards or are reading from a sheet of paper, make sure you’ve put them in the right order. Same thing with your visuals. Go over them one last time. Make sure your USB stick is in your bag. Back it all up on your computer. Be diligent and don’t miss this step!

Have you actually memorized your speech? Kudos to you! You still need to have your speech on you. If there’s a disruption in the room, it might fluster you and you might lose your place.

Go with as big as a font as you need. Only you will see it. Don’t have your speech on your phone. The screen is too small, and you’ll be squinting to read it. Plus, when you look down at your phone, the energy goes down with it. You want to keep your energy up and look out to the audience when you’re presenting.

Warm up

You’re thinking, warm up, that’s crazy — but it’s not. Public speaking is a performance. Would you want to see a concert where the orchestra spent half of the first act bumbling along at half volume because they hadn’t warmed up? Do something physical: Go for a walk or a quick run if you like. Move through a couple of yoga poses. Get your breath moving and release some feel-good endorphins.

Try not to slouch when you’re warming up — or ever, for that matter. Think of roots growing down from the bottom of your feet to the earth and energy moving up through your body and out the crown of your head. Not only does this help with your alignment, which reduces stress on your ligaments, it gives you more room in your body to let your breath move freely.

Your voice is a part of your body that needs warming up, too. Humming is a great way to warm up. You can hum in the stairwell walking up to the venue and even in your car.

Move your mouth around. Exaggerate and make it as big as you can and then make it small. Pretend you’re a goldfish and pucker up those lips. Then give a huge smile. Channel a horse and flap your lips.

Tongue twisters work well to move your articulators — wake up your face and practice with different pitch levels. Try this: Who washed Washington’s white woolen underwear when Washington’s washerwoman went west? Really exaggerate moving those muscles in your face.

The goal is to say tongue twisters clearly — not to rush so that everything sounds garbled.

Drop your breath into your abdomen

Ideally, you want to breathe from as deep inside your lungs as possible. Imagine dropping your breath deeper than your lungs, down into your lower abdomen. Think of your abdomen being a balloon. When you inhale, the bottom of the balloon expands as it fills up. Go through a few cycles of inhaling and exhaling. In fact, make it a habit.

Practice your speech out loud one more time

It may look really good on the page, but the audience won’t be reading it. Take the time to find which words you want to emphasize or elongate. Do you want to pause for dramatic effect? Where do you want to change your pitch (how high or low do you want your voice to go)? Is there a time in the presentation where your volume can get very quiet? All of these things add to your vocal variety and make your speech more exciting.

Don’t ever get onstage without having practiced your speech out loud — yes, out loud — several times. Reading it out loud beforehand is essential to giving a great presentation.

Dress the part

If you’re presenting in your boardroom, think of your clients. If you’ve just had a company golf match, you might want to change into something more professional. Always look your best. First impressions are important, and you want to make a good one.

If you’re speaking at a formal dinner, formal attire is in order. If you’re at a community barbecue, go ahead and wear those jeans (but not the ones you wear when you garden). Look professional and appropriate.

If you’re planning on speaking in high heels, make sure you practice your presentation while wearing them. You can also start in a flat shoe and work your way up to the actual shoes you’ll be wearing.

Check out your space

If you have the opportunity to practice in the room where you’ll be presenting, grab it. The more familiar you are with the space, the more comfortable you’ll feel when you’re speaking. If you don’t have that opportunity, check out the place as soon as you get there.

Is the lectern where you imagined it, or is it elsewhere? Can you work with that? Is there a power cord stretched across the stage? Will you need to walk over it at some point? Is there room to move when you speak? Is there anything that could get in your way? Can the entire audience see you? If not, can you move around so that they will? If you’re in a boardroom, where are you going to sit? If using a screen, can you move beside it so that the images aren’t flashing across your head?