How to survive the first minute on a stage?


I have been a Toastmaster for a year now. That’s long enough to know the basics, be able to prepare decent 5-7 min speech (that’s the usual length of prepared speeches at Toastmasters). That’s too short, however, to perform well outside of the comfy speech laboratory.

There’s no one public speaking thing. Professional keynote speaker will get uncomfortable when asked to host an event. Great family gatherings speaker will have sweaty palms while giving sales pitch.

A few weeks ago I was asked to give a presentation at Vilnius University. I wrote down main speech objectives, prepared related stories/examples and I thought I was ready. I asked my colleague to sit in a first row and observe me, watch out for things to improve. I spoke with a mic in my hand for the first time. Furthermore, speaking in front of 100+ listeners wasn’t something new for me, but auditorium style seating (cinema style?) was a new experience.

My colleague noticed I was nervous for the first 1-2 minutes. I didn’t keep an eye contact, I was jumping nervously from one listener to another. Apart of that, my starting posture was not confident, my steps were tiny and awkward. I’d forgotten to use a few simple tips to minimize nervousness at the beginning of any speech. Here they are:

  1. Before the speech, go to toilet and do a few squats. Or just have a walk. Physical activity lowers adrenaline level.

  2. Breathe deeply. Yawn to deceive your body it’s not that important. Believe me, it works.

  3. Find two people, one on the left and one on the right. At the beginning focus on one, moving your attention after one sentence to another listener.

  4. Don’t stay like Clint Eastwood before grabbing his gun, but look confident. Keep your balance. Remember, it’s totally fine to stay in one position for a while, especially in the beginning and in the end of your speech. But when making a step, make a solid move, not tiny, awkward slide.

  5. Remember exactly the first sentence of your speech, practice it in front of a mirror. Say it with confidence.

Good luck my friends and future me!

I'm Valdas Maksimavicius. I write about data, cloud technologies and personal development. You can find more about me here.