Master of Ceremonies!

More than a decade ago, I was invited to compére a dinner meeting for a lady presidential candidate in the Philippines. My job was to stay within the theme of the evening, introduce others and keep the transitions lively and contextual.

Days before the event, I gathered the material, read resumes and prepared my lines and timing. On the night before the event, I had everything down to a pat. That night in bed, the challenge of the next day, seemed bigger and scarier than usual.

I tossed and turned restlessly late into the night. Finally, when I did sleep, I had a nightmare. In the nightmare, I was up on the stage next to all the speakers and the lights were strong on my face. Awed by the crowd, I went into a state of shock. From nowhere the lady chief guest walked up to me, handed me the microphone and said, “Raju, it is your turn!”

My turn! I tried grappling with the pages in my hands which began to fly and circle around me in slow motion. The microphone turned into a cobra and stared me down. When I looked down at my finely dressed audience…they had changed. In their place were people of all kinds. I saw fishermen, street hawkers, and gaunt-faced ladies with cigarettes dangling from their lips. On the floor there were hundreds of crawling babies screaming at their mothers to stop smoking and pay attention to them. My wife was in the crowd begging everyone to calm down and please listen to me, the speaker!

The back of the hall had somehow transformed into a runaway, railway compartment with dozens of big, burly men playing basketball in it. Bigger, burlier men with beer mugs in their hands were watching the game and screaming and shouting while the train of my life was hurtling away to hell!

In the nightmare, through the chaos, somehow, I heard someone knock at the door of the railway compartment. Covered in cold sweat, holding back a scream in my throat, I jumped out of my bed to answer the door!

The knocking on my bedroom door was real, and when I opened it there stood my little 7-year-old daughter, crying for her mother. I picked her up and held her against my heart. With her against my chest, I recognized the absurdity of the whole situation. The demons of anxiety and fear had been playing games with my mind. I realized my fears were unfounded, my jitters unnecessary. Slowly but steadily confidence and an inner peace seeped into my whole being.

I went to sleep assured that tomorrow, I was going to perform for a crowd and not go to war with the world. My fears were gone and the material that I had been working upon became mine. The next day I dazzled the crowd and the lady presidential candidate.

Today, decades later, I have learned techniques that can help speakers like us quell our nerves on the night before and be our best on stage the next day.

  1. Eat right. Eat light and soak up on liquids the day before and also sleep early and well. Nothing like a rested body to support the mind when it is anxious.

    Master of Ceremonies!

    Master of Ceremonies!

  2. Work away at the content, the script and your spiel a day or two before and then let it go. Let it go, as in, let it seep into your subconscious by not thinking too much about it. Letting the stress go, for a while, puts the task on the back burner and still stews them well.
  3. Engage in light, happy and refreshing activities like swimming, badminton etc., to de-obsess your mind with details about tomorrow. Maybe, sketch out like an info-graphic or a mind-map key ideas and points you want to remember about your spiel tomorrow. This is to keep a frantic mind, an element of the pre-frontal cortex, at peace.
  4. Remind yourself that your big, hairy goal is to serve, please, entertain, support and add value to the work-life of your audience. Yes, focus on this the most.
  5. Lastly, trust in the fact that things do eventually come together well when our core intentions are good, ethical and selfless. It is then that we become mighty in our spirit and in our performances.


Taken from the book, “The HeART of Public Speaking” found at



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