How I overcome my fear of speaking in public

Speaking of Speeches…

Surveys regularly show that people are more afraid of speaking in public than they are of heights, enclosed spaces, planes or hurricanes! Unfortunately, most of us have to be able to talk coherently in front of other people — whether it’s just at staff meetings, presentations to clients, or more formal events. Preparation is key, gathering your information, organizing it, deciding what visual aids or handouts to use, but presentation is the part that gives many people butterflies in the stomach.

I once gave the keynote speech at a conference in Germany. I spoke “American Style” -using my transparencies as notes, but speaking naturally, interacting with the audience, making an occasional joke. Every speaker after me started with a disclaimer that he or she could not possible be as interesting or spontaneous — then proceeded to read a dry, academic, quite technical paper. I knew that presentation style was different in different cultures, and at first I thought that they actually preferred the more restrained reading of papers to my “performance”. Then I looked around and saw the audience looking off into space, playing with their pens, and, most tellingly, actually falling asleep! When they told me afterwards how much they had enjoyed my talk.I was inclined to believe — not because I am such an inspirational speaker, but simply because the techniques I was using are effective in making presentations enjoyable for the listener — and the speaker!

Here are some hints to make your presentations more enjoyable, whatever the topic, content, or setting: 1. Fake that confidence! The only thing most people like less than speaking in public is listening to someone who is uncomfortable speaking in public! When I teach public speaking, I often encounter the thinking that one has to have a great deal of experience in public speaking, then one will feel and look confident. In fact, it works the other way. If you can pretend to be confident, no matter how nervous you are, it sets your audience at ease. Then you get waves of approval from your audience, and, in turn, you start to feel more confident. You just have to play the role of someone who is sure of what they are saying and how they will be received. It’s role-playing — you don’t have to be a great actor. Just think about how you stand, and speak, and smile when you’re feeling comfortable — or observe someone else who exudes confidence. Then adopt that body posture (erect, head up), tone of voice, etc.

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