I’ve been a professional public speaker for over 15 years and have helped CEOs and founders perfect their speaking skills around the world. Everyone wants to know what the biggest secret is to being an ace public speaker and nailing that TED or conference keynote that will be watched by millions.
The best thing you can do? Sleep well.
For devotees of sleep gurus like Arianna Huffington or Matt Walker, this will come as no surprise. But broadly speaking, great sleep is critical to delivering an amazing speech—and will give you an unfair advantage in nailing your big day.
You’re a Rockstar, Act Like It
Stadium performers—rockstars and standup comedians alike—are famous for tightly structuring their performance days. Everything from the time they wake up until after the performance is scripted to ensure that they arrive at the big moment with the most energy possible.
Business leaders tend to view a big speech, pitch or meeting as just another activity on their busy calendar for the day. But this is a big mistake. You (or your PR team) have worked hard to get you this opportunity, and if done well it may change your and your company’s fortunes in a big way. The people in the room are filled with anticipation and excited to see you. Treat them—and yourself—with the right respect. Manage your calendar for that day around your talk, and ensure you conserve your energy before the talk but are amped up and in the right headspace to perform.
The Hour Before is Critical
For the hour before a major speech or pitch you should have nothing else on your mind. During this time, you should be rehearsing your talk and getting yourself in the right mental state. If that means playing upbeat music, do it. If you need to take a little walk or do 50 pushups, so be it. Many speakers like to meditate or do a bit of yoga. I personally enjoy meditating by repeating the speech to myself a few times before I get up on the stage, and by removing any other types of communication during this time. No emails, calls or social media. Block it in your calendar if you need to, and learn what you need to be super successful here.
Eat and Caffeinate Properly
Do you know your body’s food and caffeine response well? If you were to eat now, how long would it take until you might start to feel a bit sluggish from the food? Or do you know what you can eat to avoid that altogether? When it comes to beverages, do you know how long you have after drinking before you’ll need to use the restroom? Are you conscious of how much coffee you can consume to get in a good zone without becoming jittery?
Spend 5 minutes thinking about these factors and decide how you’re going to eat and drink on the day of your big talk. Put your plans in your calendar and try to stick to the lessons you’ve outlined. A surprising amount of your performance is locked up in what you’ve eaten/drank, and the goal is to get a great performance without being overly amped or too down.
Sleep, Sleep, Sleep
The night before your talk, you need a really great night’s sleep. This is hopefully a non-negotiable idea that you’re already on board with, but let me reinforce it with some hard-fought lessons and specifics.
First of all, you need to be awake 2–3 hours prior to your talk. So if your talk is first thing in the morning, you’ll need to get up very early so you can exercise, eat, meditate, get dressed, run your speech several times, and make sure you’re at the venue in time to perform. This means that you’ll need to go to bed extra early the night before. Even if your talk is in the middle of the day, you’ll want to ensure that you do not short-change your sleep that day.
If you’re doing a late afternoon or evening talk, consider a quick nap. Make sure you’re set up correctly to do so. And regardless, if you’ve had to travel somewhere for this speech, ensure that you arrive with plenty of time to create a buffer, to mitigate the time zone difference, and to get a good night’s sleep prior. Often, this means flying in a day or two before to get settled in the right way.
Sleep, like the rest of the items mentioned above—food, drink, exercise, and overall scheduling—is critical to maximizing your chances of delivering a great talk. Treat yourself like the rockstar that you are and always prioritize your health and hygiene by starting with a calendar that reflects the importance and investment in your talk.