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Become a Better and Funnier Speaker

Lesson 14 of 15

Managing Stage Fright

David Nihill

Become a Better and Funnier Speaker

David Nihill

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Lesson Info

14. Managing Stage Fright


  Class Trailer
Now Playing
1 How To Watch This Class Duration:01:25
2 Class Introduction Duration:08:53
5 How To Replicate Top Talks Duration:13:41
7 How To Get Funny Fast Duration:19:40
9 Storytelling Tips Duration:18:04
11 Live Storytelling Critique Duration:27:12
12 Avoid Going Blank on Stage Duration:21:46
14 Managing Stage Fright Duration:11:08

Lesson Info

Managing Stage Fright

So I just wanna go through a few key things. The thing that makes the biggest difference outside the memory palace, memory palace really relaxes you, but number two is a bit of a mental, I don't think it's hippie-orientated but at least it's reframing in your mind what's happening. That is fight or flight when you're on stage. Like, this is the most traumatic thing that happens to most people, public speaking. So the way your body is reacting, it always reacts like that, every time. If it doesn't react like that, you should be worried. But you should be sweating, should be perspiring. Your heart should be racing, and all you should tell yourself is, this is normal, I'm excited. This is an unusual activity that I'm about to do, this is the most heightened state of awareness I'm ever gonna have. For a comedian, it's perfect to feel that. Because if someone says something in the audience, I'm gonna be on it in a flash. And if I need to be witty, or I need to do a witty comeback, and someb...

ody heckles and shouts something, I'm gonna be faster and smarter about it, because they're two or three beers in and I'm pretty sharp, and my heart's going, and my rate is going, and I'm as alert as I'm ever gonna be. And it puts you at a little bit of advantage over the audience all the time. Plus, you control the crowd, so you can kinda stop at any moment, use silence, let it build, and then think of your response. But being in a heightened state does that. So think about it, if you were like an Indy car racing driver or you were going for the Formula 1 world championship, you're not gonna do a few shots of vodka before you get in and drive the car. Or tequila, even worse, before you do the race. You wanna be as alert as you can. So just reframe that in your mind. You're gonna feel this, if you're not sweating, you don't care about the talk you're about to get. So just be aware of that, wear dark clothes when you're on stage. Who's the most observant in the audience? I dunno, this is a similar shirt to the exact same one I was wearing in all those clips. I just know I'm gonna wear it, like Steve Jobs, Einstein, Obama, they're not nuts, they just wear the same clothes because they don't have to think about things on that day. I'm speaking, I wear this, job done, or some variation of dark clothing, because if I'm sweating, which I am, you guys won't know it for the most part. Same thing if you're holding paper, I'm gonna know you're nervous and you're unprepared, don't show me the paper. Hide these little things and it makes a big difference. But that's huge, so embrace that state. Just think about that in your mind, I'm excited, happy days, it makes a massive difference. You have to go and experience it, to do it that way, to really get over it. But just try it. Breathing is big. Anybody ever notice their voice changes when they're nervous in public speaking? My Irish friends, if they ever see this, they'll be like, what the hell happened to your voice in there? Because it's different, and I can't fully control that. I'm not voice-trained in any way, I'm no pro on that element. But what happens is, if you don't take a deep breath through your belly button, so you should actively feel your belly button come in and out, moving, not the higher part of your chest, before you go on stage, big deep breath, but through your belly button, then you sound normal. But if you start talking at the end of a breath, it gets kinda squeaky, and you notice it yourself. Nobody in the audience notices, but you notice. So you're like, what the hell, I sound really squeaky, what's happening as I'm talking, oh my god. Nobody knows in the room except you and maybe your friends, if they see you. But it unnerves you a bit as a speaker, because you're aware of it and you're conscious of it. So just a big deep breath, feel your belly button go in and out before you go on stage, life's way easier. Your voice becomes deeper and a bit more commanding. And you don't need to go off, I don't think you need to go do a bunch of voice training. But just be aware of it. You're definitely excited, everything else is normal, deep breath. Go bananas, anybody see me eating bananas before I came in here? Bananas apparently calm you down when you're nervous. They release something natural that makes a difference, but it definitely does. Now I don't mean 10 of them, but one about half an hour before you're going to do something. If you ever record an audiobook in life, or you do a podcast or something that relies on good sound, you eat an apple and it makes your mouth a bit more saliva, it dries you up a bit, so you're not like spitting and foaming at people. So I could do with an apple about now. But somebody else might have seen me eating an apple as well, before I came in here. Stuff I never knew about, but when you go to record some audio content, you quickly learn it the hard way, where the audio engineer is waiting there and he's got a thing of apples for you. You're like, oh, there must be something to this. So bananas do calm you a bit, apples make a difference for audio content, especially if you end up doing a podcast. The five P's you get in marketing school all the time, in business school, proper planning prevents poor performance. Hard to say, for the most part, but very relevant. If you've done your memory palace and you've decided what you're gonna talk about, and you've structured it and you've edited out some of the words, and you're wearing clothes that are kinda sweat-proof, you're not gonna panic, you're pretty much better than most other public speakers are ever gonna be in preparation. One or two rehearsals, do it in fast-forward, do the whole thing if you want, if you have the time for it. Or do it to the level where you can sing Happy Birthday. It's still a good way, so find your own way of getting in the groove on the preparation. But do prepare, don't wing it. Comedians do spontaneous winging, alright? So it looks spontaneous to you that someone from China just happens to be here, and oh I just happen to have a story about learning Chinese. Someone with a beard is here like Chris, and I just happen to have a story about a beard ready to go. Comedians, over time, they have a little bit of everything on pretty much every topic, and they make it look spontaneous. So comedians they say will put in an estimated 22 hours of work into every one minute of a 60 minute special, to look spontaneous. So they want you to feel it's spontaneous. Billy Connolly was my example that I mentioned earlier, I just felt like he was telling me a story then and there, but he told it to someone else the night before and again. It just felt to me like he got off the bus and came into the gig. And it just looked very spontaneous, but it wasn't. So just be aware of that. People are always like, I'm gonna wing it, and I'm like, wing it a little bit, but wing it within a structure, where you've a memory palace, I'm gonna say these three key things, and then if I feel like something else, no problem. I'm gonna leave them with a core message. Sneaky notes, we went through that one. Back pocket, side, written on a water bottle, anywhere you wanna hide them if you feel better about it. But just don't make them visible, can't be visible to your audience. Sing it like Happy Birthday, we had, stretch, I am no good for yoga or stretching or anything. I can't even get one arm around to the back, and not remotely. But you will see me, and you might have seen me stretching a little bit before I came on stage. You just raise your arms above your head in a full stretch and it just relaxes you a little bit, just before you walk out on stage. Alright, only time, anything other than that, I don't know it. That's pretty much everything I've done or anything anyone's ever told me about dealing with stagefright. But the most important things I've found are the memory palace, memory palace for the most part, and reframing it mentally. And just realizing, like, I don't get over this, I manage this. Huge differentiation, because then there's no pressure on yourself to, why am I feeling this, I feel like this every time, I feel horrible every time, I feel nervous, I'm just no good at public speaking. Like TED even themselves will be like, if you have an idea worth spreading, we'll help you deliver it. We'll teach you in a way that you'll be able to communicate, no problem, everybody's capable of that. In the same way, I firmly believe everybody's capable of being funny. So yeah. I love this sign. "Roses are red, bacon is red, poems are hard, bacon." You can nearly feel the frustration in that. He just didn't succeed in being funny whatsoever. But it's still mildly entertaining. If you're up there and something weird is going wrong, something's going on, you're a dribbling mess, you're super-nervous, acknowledge it. You'll hear from a lot of people in business public speaking, just get through it, go through it, don't let it be a distraction. Think positive, don't let them know you haven't done this before. But honestly, have you ever seen a guy with slides going on and like the alarm starts going off, and he's like, I'll just keep going, I've got a number, we'll finish, and the place is going on fire. Don't finish your talk, I am outta here. Alright, don't do that. But I wanna show you a great example of that. Dave Eggers has done some amazing non=profit work. But just watch how nervous he is to start, and watch how just acknowledging what the audience knows to be obvious really breaks that tension. Alright, beautiful example. So I want you to notice now, even when you think public speaking's going bad, it's never as bad as you think. Alright, you hold court over that audience. You control it, and a lot of times, you can control it by just being silent. Remember the expression, the end of laughter is followed by the height of listening? When people laugh a lot, they want more. When you think it's going bad, you can just use silence a lot of times, to really buy yourself some time to think. And I struggle to find an example other than this one, where I think it's going really bad, and then I watch the audience getting together and you can just feel their anticipation building for the answer, they're always on your side. Like they always wanna see you do well. If you're doing badly, they want the ground to open up and you to be able to get into a tunnel and just get out of the building and get it over with. They always support you, the audience, as long as you're honest with them and you're open and if something's going on, don't ignore it, acknowledge it. If you're not funny, acknowledge it. If someone says something, give them a bit of credit. I love it, full 29 seconds of build-up. And you can just feel it, but they're on his side. Like they want him to make the comeback in that scenario. But just remember, the end of laughter is always followed by the height of listening. Use a little bit of it. And nothing else in this, as kids, they estimate that we, and I don't know scientifically sound this is, they estimate that we used to laugh about 300 times a day. And now, literally, people in our age group, for the most part, around 15. So anybody who can bring back some of that lost laughter becomes a bit of a hero, especially in the world of public speaking where, remember, a couple of little jokes and they're all like happy dolphins and everybody's happy. It's just unusual for you to sit there and enjoy happy dolphins, isn't it? It's true, and actually it does happen. This is a link that any of you guys watching at home and any of you guys here, you can go to it. And anything I mentioned whatsoever, every clip, every link, every book that I said, the tips, there's a workbook that goes with this, any form of more information if you wanna take a shot at it, oh you don't have the phones, online you guys have got it. I'll give it to you after. My email, if you need to get in touch with anything. And also on Twitter, I'm about as active as a dead hamster, I don't do anything on there. But I can be contacted, if you need to get in touch with me.

Class Description

Let’s just be real for a minute: most public speakers are boring. And aside from making your day a little less fun, dull presentations are bad for business.

Audiences have become conditioned to receiving information with a dose of entertainment, and that makes humor a critical tool for any professional communicator. We want our data with a punchline these days-- witness the success of The Daily Show or the stickiness of many of President Obama’s speeches for example.

It’s not just about getting some laughs to make yourself feel good; it’s about using humor to grab and hold your audience’s interest, making your message stickier and ultimately more persuasive. In a world full of bland, dull speakers, if you stand out, you win!

The good news is that humor is a skill, which means that it can be learned by anyone. The notion that we’re “born funny” couldn’t be more false: “being funny” is just a set of easily-replicated techniques (for example, the setup followed by the punchline) that anyone can pick up with a little practice.

Whether you are preparing for a business presentation, giving a wedding toast, defending your thesis, raising money from investors, this class will take you from nervous and sweaty to stage-ready.

Bestselling author, storyteller, occasional comedian, and Irishman, David Nihill will teach you:  

  • How top business speakers are using humor
  • One Sure Fire Way to Add Funny to any content
  • How To Replicate Top TED Talks
  • Basic Comedy Writing Techniques
  • Quick ways to get funny fast
  • How To Make Boring Things Funny (with guest Sarah Cooper)
  • Storytelling Tips that everyone can use
  • Advanced Comedy Writing Techniques
  • How to critique your own stories
  • Never go blank on stage with the memory palace technique
  • Content delivery tips for all levels
  • Manage stage fright  

As an added bonus, Sarah Cooper, a writer, comedian, and creator of the satirical blog, will be joining David to teach you how to make boring subjects more entertaining.

Learn more about David Nihill from his appearance on the “Profit, Power, Pursuit Podcast”!  



I always wondered why my favorite TED talks look so effortlessly off-the-cuff while commanding my undivided attention: Laughter. David's class taught me how "The end of laughter is followed by the height of listening." Applying stand-up comedy techniques to the art of storytelling makes information much easier to retain, and hence, easier to share with others. David handily makes the case for why the comedic structure is necessary and applicable in a variety of cases, ranging from business presentations to blog posts. After learning about the joke structure and funnel, I now hear/see them in action throughout my day. He also shares specific tips on how to "memorize" talking points while remaining totally flexible to last-minute time changes (e.g. "Your 20-minute talk just got chopped to 5 minutes. Go!") David covers specifically how to start your talk, end your talk, and where precisely to position your Q&A sessions to maximize audience reaction to the speaker. He supercharges this talk with so many actionable tricks and tips. Sarah Cooper makes a guest appearance sharing 4 tips that I found especially helpful for creating funny visuals. David's heartfelt honesty about the guts it takes to "get up on stage" - the vulnerability of it - really shines through. And now, I carry my "Funny File" with me at all times. This is a truly phenomenal class, both in content and delivery. Thank you for making me laugh, David and Sarah!

Kashif Rashid

Pretty brilliant. David is hilarious so he is definitely using his techniques. Its also easier to follow the class and want more when they are funny. I think most of the presenters on Creative live should be taking this class too . Make it funny so that learning becomes "fun"-ner

Philipp @PhotoAmmon Ammon

Brilliant lecture. David managed to keep me hooked, and I am pretty sure I will do so much better on whatever public speaking I have to do next As a photographer, I know this will help improve the way I look at talking about my work, and I think these kind of skills are vital to any artist. One little thing I didn't like about this was more of a technical issue. He uses videos as examples to the content he is teaching, but none of the CL links to the videos worked. I know its probably a copyright issue, but I would rather watch bad footage of the TV in the studio than nothing at all. Especially since I can't pause the talk and find the videos. Regardless, brilliant talk. Definitely watch it!