Public Speaking: Conquering the Fear

For most people, public speaking is something to avoid or endure. Having to do it can bring on all kinds of reactions. Uncontrollable shaking, profuse sweating, racing heartbeat, breathing difficulties, even an inability to stand up. I’ve trained public speakers who suffered all of these frightening feelings and many more. Even people used to the public spotlight are not immune. So it’s no surprise to hear the experience of Harry Potter actress and UN goodwill ambassador, Emma Watson. Receiving the Inspiration Award at Monday’s Harpers Bazaar Women of the Year Awards at Claridges, Watson told the audience:

“I was utterly terrified. Really, really bricking it… I was quite literally in the foetal position on the floor after I had done the audition, thinking ‘Why did I think I could do this? I can’t do this…”

Sound familiar? Of course it does. Surveys regularly show that more people are afraid of standing up in front of a group and talking than of dying. For people whose job, promotion or some other opportunity demands they perform confidently in presentations and speeches, training is an effective way to conquer the fear.

I teach techniques to help speakers become the most confident version of themselves, whether at a lecturn in front of a huge audience, giving a team presentation to a smaller group, or delivering a presentation to their Board. They learn how to convey conviction and have impact.  An important part of the process is to help public speakers identify and deal with the  deep-rooted fears, negative thoughts and physical responses that get in the way of their performance. An otherwise confident and articulate delegate recently said to me of public speaking:

“I hate it. I feel like I’m not actually listening to what I’m saying. I kind of blur out and become really nervous. I’m conscious people are looking at me and I feel flustered and tense and that I’m not making sense.”

These types of fears and feelings can be overcome but it takes courage on the part of the speaker and an experienced trainer to produce results.  Want to deliver a storming presentation or speech? Here are my five top tips:

1. Rehearse

Michelle Obama delivered a speech that was described as “stirring”, “stellar” and “knockout” at the 2016 Democratic convention in July. We can’t all be great orators but we can learn from the greats. You can bet the First Lady rehearsed her speech thoroughly before wowing her audience and you should too. Never wing it – even speakers who appear to wing it have rehearsed in advance!

2. Wear perfectly fitting clothes that make you feel great

You want to feel as confident as possible, so wear clothes and shoes that you know make you look great. Don’t try out new shoes – if they pinch, you’ll be shifting from foot to foot which will make you look nervous or untrustworthy and definitely don’t debut a new hairstyle or outfit that could make you feel self-conscious. It will affect your performance.

3. Don’t go on and on…and on

Boring the audience is the biggest no-no. Keep your speech tight and make it relevant to the people listening. Most importantly, don’t use endless powerpoint slides. If possible, don’t use any and speak from experience.

4. Be yourself and know your stuff

If you’re a natural comedian, by all means use humour, but don’t set out to be someone you’re not. Audiences respond to speakers who are genuine and enthused about their subject, so speak from the heart/experience/conviction.

5. Slow down and smile

Speaking too quickly is an obvious sign of nerves. It’s amazing how ready to listen a sceptical audience will become when listening to someone speak at a calm, measured pace. Look like you’re enjoying your moment in the spotlight, even if you aren’t. Smiling stimulates the production of endorphins which help relieve stress.

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