Whenever anyone asks me why I have anxiety about public speaking, they ultimately pose this question: "What's the worst that could happen?" Now, I finally have something to point them to. On Monday, film director Michael Bay imploded on stage at CES 2014 while introducing Samsung's 105" curved UHD TV set, fleeing the stage in embarrassment. He lived my public speaking nightmare, and probably yours, too.
Reminder: Everyone gets stressed about public speaking. But there are ways to prepare yourself to reduce the risk of freezing up.
Bay's first mistake was that he didn't seem to have any of his lines memorized, relying instead on a teleprompter, so when the teleprompter failed, he wasn't prepared to bounce back. Only later did he take to his blog to explain, " I got so excited to talk, that I skipped over the Exec VP’s intro line and then the teleprompter got lost. Then the prompter went up and down—then I walked off." Communication and behavior expert Deborah Grayson Riegel recommends memorizing at least the first three lines of your speech to "shift your brain out of panic mode and into memory-retrieval mode."
But there's a difference between knowing your lines and sounding like a recording. The moment Bay opened his mouth, he went into robot mode. Even when Joe Stinziano, Samsung's executive vice president, tried to pull him back on track ("The curve? How do you think it's going to impact how viewers experience your movies?"), Bay was so focused on his script that he struggled get ahold of himself. Rather than memorizing an entire speech, the best way to prepare for these situations is to focus on the idea you want to get across. Fast Company's own productivity guru Drake Baer says you should "know the whole of the ideas you're trying to communicate—then talk about them like a human." If a teleprompter fails or you can't remember your lines, take a breath and turn your focus back to the point you want to make, then just have a conversation.
But hey, if you do freeze up or make a mistake, remind yourself that everyone has been there, and it's not the end of the world. As Flip the Script author Bill Wakermann says, "you have to have faith in yourself that others will love you and appreciate you even if you make a mistake now and again." Learn from your mistakes, and be more prepared next time.