It can be the loneliest walk of your life. The introducer has just read your name, the applause has started, and you are headed to your speaking position. You're tense, anxious, and focused on the first words you want to say. When you finally reach your spot, everything shifts - your eyes open wide and you are ready to electrify the crowd with your execution of spectacular speechifying.
You've just walked the Green Mile of Speaking - and as a result, started your speech six feet under!
We develop this habit at an early age. No one liked being called up to the blackboard to do math problems for all to see, or to read our book report - and our teachers weren't about to say "hey - look confident and engage your fellow classmates as you come up here" - but maybe they should have.
Your speech doesn't start with your first words, or even your introduction. It starts the minute you come into contact with your audience, even if you aren't speaking for hours, or until the next day. Once you're put in the spotlight, your listeners will remember how you were when they witnessed you walking down the hall, using your hands instead of tongs in the buffet line, or even flipping them the bird when they cut you off in traffic. (Even if that person on the way isn't your meeting planner or the CEO of the company you are presenting for, why put yourself into a surly mood on the drive there?)
They remember the warm handshake and eye contact...the easy laugh as you casually spoke around a table of ten strangers, or calmly let them merge ahead and wave. It's true people are less likely to remember good moments like this, but still, it beats them remembering the bad experiences described above.
The Green Mile of Speaking itself is still the most important walk of your speech. Don't use the walk to get ready - if you aren't already ready, you haven't done your job. Walking with your head down, scowling while you go over your speech, and then blossoming like a sunflower with your first words may seem like a dramatic victory, but it will be incongruent to your audience.
Intead, walk with energy, intent, even a smile (unless your talk starts seriously, then just look neutral but confident), and allow eye contact with those you walk by. Signal them that you are excited and anxious to speak to them, and you'll start transferring your energy to them before you say a word. They'll see you have a message you can't wait to deliver, and subconsciously begin to anticipate it as well.
The Green Mile of Speaking is your real first impression with most of the crowd - take advantage of it - and when you're done, do the same thing heading off the stage. Looking relieved to finally be done can send just as much of a mixed message as looking like you are heading to your doom before you begin!
Once you've mastered the Green Mile, it will quickly transform from the lonely walk of certain death to your assumptive lap of victory - as you masterfully Speak - and Deliver.