Stage Fright & Stand Up

Last night was the final class for the fall Speak with Impact Lab and I wanted to share 4 big takeaways to help you get started on your path to building your presence:

1) Start with your Mindset

If you find public speaking intimidating, it can be helpful to look to other activities that aren't as scary. 

I read an article in the Harvard Business Review called How to Cure Your Dread of Public Speaking about how public speaking is like stand up comedy.

I love this analogy and I often talk about how public speaking is like learning to play baseball. Whether you’re learning a new sport, an instrument, or the art of stand up, chances are high that you’re going to be bad before you’re good. 

If you can accept that as a given, and be willing to do some awkward practice runs, you’ll improve so much quicker.

2) Be willing to be a beginner

Going back to comedy, if you watch stand up, you’ve probably seen some bad jokes. 

If you play an instrument, you probably took part in some less than stellar school concerts. (Thank you home videos for preserving my early clarinet concerts)

And if you frequent smaller comedy clubs, you might occasionally see headliners trying out their material because that's how they figure out if their jokes are funny to other people.

3) Practice

Practicing your presentation for other people is the best way to find out if your content makes sense and is meaningful to other people

It might feel awkward to practice before you're finished, but getting feedback early on is crucial. It will pay off tenfold and I guarantee it's worth the potential embarrassment.

I call this class the lab because a lab is a place to experiment.

Think of it like your high school chemistry class. 

You run experiments and see what reactions you get. You try out new things and you evaluate how they work. 

4) Don’t be afraid to mess up

Practice should be messy. Don’t wait until your presentation is finished to start practicing. As soon as you have an outline, start working through your ideas out loud.

It’s okay to fumble. Check out What to do When You Stumble for 5 tips to gracefully handle presentation blunders.

Madeline Schwarz
The Best Way to Build Your Skills

Are you scared of presenting your work? 


The best way to get comfortable speaking in front of a group is to practice speaking in front of a group.


This month I will be kicking off another Speak with Impact Lab, a 5-week in-person workshop on public speaking and presentation skills. 

Speak with Impact Lab is a small group course designed to get your ideas out of your head and coming out of your mouth so you can be articulate even when you’re nervous. 


It provides a safe space to practice presenting, refine your content and learn how to calm your nerves so you can nail your presentation when it matters most. 


Over the course of 5 weeks, you will develop strategies to manage your fears and engage your audience so you can:


  • Persuade clients and teammates that you thought through solutions and already arrived at the best option

  • Be confident in your message so you don’t get sent back to the drawing board

  • Respond effectively to questions without melting into a puddle of nerves

What this means for you is at the end of 5 weeks, you’ll have your presentation written, rehearsed and ready to go so you can showcase your work and finally get recognized as an authority. 


Want in? Details are here.

Public Speaking for Introverts

If you’re an introvert, standing up in front of a crowd of people (or even a couple colleagues) can be especially challenging.

That’s why Ellevate Network’s Girl Boss Bootcamp: The Introvert’s Guide to Public Speaking drew such a big crowd.

As an introvert myself, I am hugely passionate about this topic. I wanted to share tips and strategies for all the introverts out there who are trying to balance their quiet nature with their desire to express themselves. 

Use these strategies to build your confidence and grow your professional presence.

#1 Planning is your friend. 

Introverts generally do better when they’re prepared. Spending a few minutes upfront preparing will make a huge difference when you’re speaking in front of other people. 

Start by getting really clear on what you want your audience to walk away with. 

It’s important to think about your topic from the audience’s perspective. I like to use this template to set objectives with my clients:

At the end of my presentation, I want the audience to remember______________ and/or take action step ___________________.

#2 Map Out Your Speaking Points
Take a moment to jot down your 2 or 3 most important points. If you have more than 3, narrow them down. Sharing too much information will overwhelm your audience.

Even if you prefer to improvise, a few minutes of planning can go a long way. It will help you stay on message and play in the moment.

#3 Use Your Strengths

If you’re quiet by nature, don’t feel like you need to be a big, charismatic performer. Instead, lean into your strengths. 

If listening is your biggest strength, know that it’s a really powerful skill to tap into your audience.  If you’re not sure what your strengths are, reach out to me. I can help!

#4 Tell Stories

You may not like talking about yourself or bragging about your accomplishments, but I bet you can tell a story.

Stories are relatable and give you a way to connect with your audience, even if you’re shy. That’s why we spend time crafting your stories in Speak with Impact Lab.

#5 Focus on Mindset

If you’re worried about worst-case scenarios, you’re going to look and feel more nervous. 

Instead, focus on your objective and what you want to accomplish. It’s much easier to connect with the people in front of you when you get out of your own head and think about the gift you can give by sharing your ideas.

Practice reframing your thoughts. For example, if standing in front of people with all eyes on you triggers the thought “They’re judging me,” you might instead tell yourself “They’re paying attention to me.” Similarly, when the thought comes up “This is terrifying” you might swap in “This is an experiment.”

Remember that nervousness is a natural human emotion so it can be helpful to observe the physical sensations that come up (such as shaking hands and pounding heart) and visualize other areas in your life where you feel more confident.

#6 Practice

Practice out loud. More than once.

Don’t read your notes to yourself. Read them out loud, do a run-through in front of other people, for your dog, in front of your kids, or on the subway. Get more practice ideas here.

But practice. 

And if you’re looking for the magic formula to create a presentation that engages your audience and establishes you as the expert, grab the guide: Create a Presentation that Stands Out. It walks you through how to write and practice your presentation in 1 week or less, even if you have no time, so you can stop rambling and start speaking like the expert.

Play & Why You Need It

Last night I read the King’s Stilts to my 5-year-old. I probably read this classic Dr. Seuss book 100 times during my own childhood but last night the message jumped out at me loud and clear. 

You can’t rule the kingdom, run your business, or pour all your energy into work, all the time. 

You have to make time for play.

In the book, the king gets up early and does all his work in the morning so he can spend the afternoons galavanting around the kingdom on stilts. 

When someone takes his stilts away, he becomes sad and depressed and can no longer run the kingdom. Without the balance of fun and work, he loses all motivation.

Who can relate?

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that a few more minutes (or hours) staring at a computer screen or thinking through the problem, will reveal the solution. 

Usually, it’s the opposite. The next time the answer eludes you, take a break. 

Stand up, close the computer, go outside, phone a friend.

Engage in some creative procrastination (legos and adult coloring books are two of my favorite play breaks).

Play feeds your creativity but it can be hard to make time for it. 

You might spend your days at a creative job but even those coveted creative jobs can be exhausting. It takes time and energy to come up with new ideas. 

So what can you do to stimulate your creativity and generate new ideas?

Making time for things that bring you joy is essential for your happiness and creativity. But sometimes it can be hard to remember what you liked to do before adult life and digital distractions took over. If that’s the case, let’s talk. 

I’ve helped my clients carve out time to paint, do yoga, meditate, write, and it’s amazing how that ripples into other areas of life.

You don’t need an hour. In the words of Elle Luna, start with 10 minutes. 

Drop me a line and tell me what’s something fun that you can spend 10 minutes on today?

3 Secret Weapons to Engage Your Audience
They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.
— Carl W Buechner

The best presentations engage your audience on a human level. You may be the one standing in front of an audience, but that doesn’t mean you have to do all the work.

I often hear from clients that they don’t like public speaking because they feel like they’re talking AT people. If you’re talking AT people it’s not going to be fun… for anyone.

The best way to engage your audience is to involve them.

Invite them into your world, use your creativity, and show them your personality.

I was recently doing a workshop for a team of researchers and we were playing with techniques to make presentations stand out at conferences. Just because you’re presenting data doesn’t mean your presentation has to be dry.

Below are 3 secret weapons to connect with your audience so you can stop talking at people and have more fun.

Secret Weapon #1: Pictures

Pictures are worth a thousand words.

Stop putting so many words on your slides and replace them with pictures. We’ve all sat through boring Powerpoint presentations and no one wants to read them.

Pictures engages different learning styles and help bring your ideas to life.

When you don’t have slides, use descriptive language to paint a picture.

Secret Weapon #2: Props

We’re so inundated with screens that anytime you show people a real object, it automatically grabs their attention.

Some of the best TED talks include props. Susan Cain brought her suitcase full of books to the TED stage and Josh Kaufman played the ukulele during his talk.

When I was working with a client doing events for the nonprofit 826, she incorporated a can of chuptzpah into her presentation.

Not only did it highlight a product from the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store where they were holding the event, but it added humor and vulnerability to her talk and helped her connect on a human level.

Props are a great place to inject creativity into your presentation. They can provide visual interest and sound, such as a holding up a plastic water bottle and crunching it when I was talking about the perils of single use water bottles.

Secret Weapon #3: Personal Stories

Stories are memorable. They elicit emotion and engage the senses.

You can use stories to set the scene for your audience and show them why they should care about your topic.

When I teach workshops we do a storytelling exercise to get everyone’s creative juices flowing and I challenge people to think about how they can use all 3 strategies (pictures, props and personal stories) in combination to make their content come alive.

Do you have a secret weapon that you use when speaking?

Let me know what it is.

7 Life lessons from Improv

When I told a business acquaintance that I was starting improv classes, she replied “I bet you’re great at that.”

This struck a chord. She assumed that I was already great at improv or that it came naturally because I teach people about public speaking.

I felt myself tense up, for a moment believing that I should already know everything there is to know about improvising. Then I remembered why I signed up for a class.

I wanted to learn. Improv is fun, and hard, and awkward. Like anything else, it takes practice.

I get up in front of groups regularly and teach workshops, but that doesn’t mean I’m not still learning.

For some, performing comes naturally, For others, you might dread being the center of attention. But you don’t have to be a natural performer to be a great public speaker.

I just finished an 8-week Improv class at Magnet Theater and I wanted to share 7 life lessons I learned from improv:

  1. Doing silly things with strangers is fun - sure it’s awkward but it's also hilarious and it builds trust.

  2. You don't have to know everything. In fact, it's a huge relief when you realize you’re supported by a team of other people who can help you figure things out

  3. When in doubt, mirror what your partner is doing - imagine if you applied this concept the next time you’re in a situation where you don’t know the answer.

  4. Listening is vital. As a naturally quiet person, listening was already a strength but knowing you have to respond to what your scene partner is doing makes you pay attention on a deeper level.

  5. Let go of control - if you spend all your time planning what you’re going to say, it might be completely irrelevant by the time it’s your turn. You might miss the most important details, you might miss all the fun.

  6. Commit - you might be unsure but if you look certain it will be easier to get other people on board.

  7. Pretend - if you’re scared, do it anyway. Pretend you feel confident. Eventually you will.

Improv is simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating. It requires letting go of control (#scary) and trusting the people you’re working with.

I can recall a time when improv would have been my worst nightmare and now it feels fun.

So remember, however you feel about your presentation skills today, those feelings can change.

It’s okay to start at the beginning.

It’s okay to not know the answer.

It’s okay to still be learning.

Not quite ready for improv classes? I understand.

There are other ways to get started.

Grab 4 steps to a Winning Work Presentation to prep for presentations, even if you have no time, so you can stop freaking out and start communicating like the expert.

Public speaking is like baseball and knitting

At an event last week someone asked me whether I thought anyone could be trained to speak in public.

My first answer was an emphatic yes.

My second answer, was yes, provided they’re willing to practice.

As a kid, I spent the summers with my dad.

At Camp Dad, I learned how to cook and play ball.

From age 10-18, our after dinner ritual consisted of daily softball and tennis practice, and occasional, reluctant basketball practice.

I learned a lot from all those evenings taking batting practice and hitting tennis balls, and not just how to switch hit or play tennis with 2 forehands (yes, two).  

What at first felt awkward and frustrating - lots of strikes and getting hit with tennis balls - eventually became more fun.

As I became more proficient, there were fewer misses and more satisfying moments when you hear the beautiful sound of your bat or racquet connecting with the ball.

Public speaking is just like learning to play a sport.

It can be scary and nervewracking at the start. But anyone can learn and its exhilarating when you connect with your audience. That’s the good news.

The bad news is YOU. HAVE. TO. PRACTICE.

Practice builds muscle memory. The more times you do it, the less terrifying it feels.

And the less terrified you feel, the more fun it will be.

Okay, that sounds good in theory but how do you get started and move past the deer in headlights feeling?

Watching endless TED talks, reading books on presentations, and silently reading your notes to yourself are not going to cut it.

It’s like trying to learn how to play baseball by watching it on TV. Or knitting your first sweater by watching YouTube tutorials without buying any yarn or knitting needles.

At some point, you have to leave the house. You have to practice.

So the next time you have a presentation, block off 10 minutes a day for 3 days leading up to your presentation and practice OUT LOUD.

Here's how to spend your time:

Day 1 - Practice your presentation in the mirror. This might feel a little silly at first, but you want to get comfortable seeing and hearing yourself speak. Watching yourself in the mirror helps you get used to looking up and makes it easier to maintain eye contact when you’re in front of an audience.

Day 2 - Record yourself and listen to it. You can do this on video or voice memo but make sure to listen back to the recording and pay attention to your speed, volume, intonation (and posture if you're watching video).

Day 3 - Practice your presentation for a dog. Dogs make very understanding audiences and they force you to be creative to keep them engaged. If your furry friend is drifting off, try changing positions, moving locations, or switching up your volume or pitch. (Hint: These same techniques also work for humans)

Scheduling a few short practice sessions will save you the anxiety of cramming and help you make time for the #1 thing that will improve your confidence and increase your impact.

Do you have a favorite practice technique? Let me know.

Want more practice ideas? Read Practice Your Talk on the Subway

Need a Topic? 3 Ways to Figure out your Idea

Are you struggling to find your topic, or narrow down a broad topic with a specific point of view?

You might be overwhelmed with too many ideas OR struggling because you have no ideas at all.

If you’re in the second camp and writer’s block is holding you back, you need look no further than your personal experience to generate ideas.

You have a wealth of stories and life experience to draw on, but where do you start?

Below are 3 of my favorite brainstorming techniques get your creative juices flowing.  

PROMPT 1: Write down 3 things you often rant about.
For me, this is bottled water, takeout, and automatic sinks that don’t turn on when they’re supposed to.

PROMPT 2: Write down 3 things you’re passionate about that you’d like to share with your audience.

You’ll often find me talking about are cooking, gardening, and how to make communication more fun

PROMPT 3: Write down 3 things you’d like to learn more about.

If your mind is overflowing with ideas, write down all the possible subjects you’ve thought about giving a talk on. Get them out of your head and onto paper so you can free up head space for the next steps.

You should now have a list of half a dozen or more ideas and can move on to the next step.

Step 2 is to narrow down your ideas, and for some, this is the hardest part.

Circle one or two ideas that jump out at you.

Pick one and write 100 words about it. (Writing 100 words is a good litmus test on whether this is a good topic to pursue.)

Now that you have a topic, Step 3 is to define your objective.

Grab the 4 Steps to a Winning Work Presentation for an easy template.

4 Things to Read that changed my Life

There are tons of books on career-change and it can be a bit overwhelming so if you’re thinking it’s time to make a change, here are a few books and articles on my short list.

These got me through a layoff, a sprained ankle and one long summer of self-reflection.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

This book had such a big impact on my life, I gave 3 talks about it.

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Marie Kondo’s book came into my life at precisely the right moment. I sprained my ankle and was laid off from my job in the course of a week and  spent the better part of a month on my couch nursing my wounds. It was during this time that I became acutely aware that every surface in our home was covered with clutter.

I felt like the walls were closing in on me and I whole-heartedly jumped in to Kondo’s process of tidying up.

I unearthed a lot of forgotten treasures, among them, my prom dress, my first cell phone, a floppy disk from a job I left in 2003. I also unearthed a lot of art supplies and other remnants of past hobbies long cast aside or forgotten amidst adult responsibilities. Sorting through almost 40 years of clutter was cathartic and cleared out the mental and physical head space to make some difficult decisions.

I decided  to walk away from a 10-year career in fashion and retail because it no longer made me happy or aligned with my values. And I took a giant leap of faith and decided to start a business.

If you find yourself at a career crossroads, I challenge you to ask what you’re holding onto?

Start with decluttering. It might not seem intuitive but I’d be curious what turns up when you clear out your home (and your brain).

The Crossroads of Should and Must by Elle Luna

Elle Luna’s blog post went viral because so many of us have dreams but we don’t have the faith to follow them.

Every time we come to the two available paths, to the place we can actually make a choice between what we should do and what we must do, we often go with what is safest. We go with should.

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Where are you saying should in your life? And what are you afraid of if you decide to pursue what you must do? Even if the must path is more challenging and scarier it is the only path that will lead to your true calling.

When it was my turn to choose I should have stuck with my career path. That was the practical choice.

That’s what my parents and most of my friends thought I should do, and most of my friends.

But I knew that I MUST start a business. The universe was telling me it was time to make a big change. It wasn’t safe, it wasn’t easy, but it was the thing I must do.

The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron

A friend recommended this book to me the same summer my sprained ankle and the job lay-off led to some deep soul searching.

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The Artist’s Way is for creative’s who are feeling blocked. There are two big ideas in it, one that I have kept up regularly, and one that I think is a great idea but that I struggle with, Morning Pages and the Artist’s Date.

For Morning Pages you write 3 pages every morning. No rhyme or reason, just pages of stream of consciousness thinking. It’s a great practice to unclutter the mind so that you have space for more creative thoughts and ideas to develop.

For the Artist Date you need only make time in your calendar for fun and inspiration. You must set aside 2 hours a week, by yourself, doing something that brings you joy.

As a business owner, I find this particularly hard but every time I make time to go to a museum, stroll through the park, do a craft project, or take a bike ride, I feel refreshed.

I Could Do Anything if I only I knew What it Was by Barbara Sher

One of the most important takeaways from this book is to stop holding ourselves back with sequential thinking. I’ll do A (sign up for an art class, start looking for a job) after I do B (turn 40, get married, get promoted.)

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Do it now, fit it in on the weekend, or start with just 10 minutes a day.

I hope each of these reads will inspire you to reflect on what you can declutter in your life. What you must do. What blocks do you need to get rid of so you can take action?

Want help? I’d be happy to hop on the phone with you and help you figure out your next step. Email me at and let’s chat.

Are you feeling stuck in your choices?

Are you feeling stuck?

Sometimes play can help you get unstuck so you can come up with new ideas.

That's why I created the Momentum Maker, a new spin on a classic game piece.

You might remember it as a fortune teller or a cootie catcher. But unlike the ones you made in grade school, this one won’t tell you who you’re going to marry or how many kids you’re going to have. Instead, it will do something far more useful.

The Momentum Maker is a conversation tool to stop procrastination
and get your team talking and engaged in a productive dialog exchange.

Check out this interview from when I was featured on The Cheerful Mind to find out how I use the Momentum Maker as a coaching tool.

Want one?

Join us at the next workshop Collaboration with Your Clients: Critical Conversation Skills To Keep Presentations On Track presented by Spark Design Professionals.