Sweating Bullets: Overcoming the Fear of Public Speaking
Have you ever met someone who appears comfortable in front of a crowd of people delivering a speech, making a presentation, cracking jokes or performance acting? Wouldn’t you like to be like them? Trust me, looks can be deceiving! Now imagine how you would react if you were told that part of your job would include giving presentations and talks? It is likely to happen, so get prepared now. Your career may depend on it!
As someone who averages in excess of three hours speaking to groups, making presentations and/or conducting workshops every week, I was contacted as an “expert” (Ha!) recently for an interview to help a training company prepare employees who will present material to groups large and small. (I guess some people like the way I speak.) The interviewer wanted help with three questions:
- What are some of the best ways to get up to speed with public speaking if you’re suddenly promoted into a position that requires it?
- What are some tips you have for effective public speaking?
- What are some challenges to public speaking that people might face, and how can they deal with them?
Let’s take these one at a time:
What are some of the best ways to get up to speed with public speaking if you’re suddenly promoted into a position that requires it?
- Seek a mentor. Ask someone you know and whose speaking ability you admire to coach and/or critique you during a practice session.
- Join a group like Toastmasters International. A membership is less than $100 in most areas. Even “natural” speakers have quirks that can pointed-out and minimized or improved upon. (Mine is using the word, “Sure” when answering a question). On my way to church on Sundays I listen to a radio news program that includes some sort of audio puzzle. The Puzzle Master, Will Shortz, who is also the New York Times’ Puzzle Editor has a habit where he starts every answer to a question with “Yes”. One more example: I am still a fan of my home town football team (Go Saints!) although I haven’t lived there in over two decades. One of the announcers begins virtually every sentence with the term, “I mean…”. Once I counted over 50 “I means” in a half of a ball game! I wanted reach through the radio to strangle him!
“I mean, joining an organization like Toastmaster can help hone your skills.” [joke intended]
What are some tips you have for effective public speaking?
- Practice, practice, practice! Know your material cold!
- I conduct workshops and speak somewhere every week. No matter how many times I have presented material, I practice prior to every presentation. It was the same when I was in sales and sales management. I re-read every clinical study a minimum of four times per year and knew all my competition’s statistics, as well.
- If giving a speech (without back-up visual material) try using an outline to keep on topic. I have a bad habit of going off on tangents. An outline or notes have been of great help.
- When using PowerPoint or SlideShare, there‘s an apt term, “Death by PowerPoint.” PowerPoint hints:
- The fewer words used, the better. Bullet points should be single words or short phrases not paragraphs. They are to remind you of what you need to convey.
- Reading long text is death!
- Use animation to focus the audience’s attention (see below)
- Employ clipart or pictures that illustrate what your content is about
- Then add your dialogue
- This method keeps the audience focused on you
- It also gives you plenty of wiggle room…and can get a chuckle or 2
- Do NOT over animate! Don’t use crazy animation.
- Appear is the simplest and best. Use the K.I.S.S. system!
- Animate each bullet point so you control the presentation’s pace and focus
- Engage the audience by asking questions
- Point to specific members of the audience as example
- If you don’t know the answer admit it, promise to get back with the person/people… then DO IT!
What are some challenges to public speaking that people might face, and how can they deal with them?
Everyone has a fear of public speaking. Johnny Carson, Carol Burnette, Robin Williams and Jim Caray (and me) all have been uncomfortable speaking at times. You are making yourself vulnerable. Being nervous is normal.
- You are likely to endure sweaty palms, nervous dripping underarms or head, dry mouth, cracking voice, the shakes. Most successful speakers (and actors/comedians) use self-deprecating humor to break the ice with the audience and simultaneously overcome their nervousness. I introduce myself as the guy who ran for president in 1928…I lost to Herbert Hoover…you can look it up.
- As always, practice will make you more comfortable
If you work on these principals not only will you likely advance your career, you will be respected and admired by your audience…none of whom will feel comfortable speaking to a crowd like YOU just did.