“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy”.
Public speaking is difficult, public speaking is scary, public speaking is not my strong skill.
I hear these and similar things daily when talking with people about public speaking. I’m sure I had similar thoughts when I started my journey standing in front of people to speak. The good thing about the fear of public speaking is all your fears can be overcome. Trust me, if I can get over the fear of standing in front of people and talking, everyone can.
My first exposure to public speaking came as part of my instructor role when I was in the Air Force. My actual job knowledge (data analyst) was needed to train the next generation of Air Force data analyst. I was forced to come out of my natural introvert shell and learn how to engage a room full of students who depended on me to help them grow professionally. No pressure, huh?
“Best way to conquer stage fright is to know what you’re talking about”.
(Michael H. Mescon)
I learned the more I practice the less nervous I am when I stand in front of groups. Decided to always err on the side of overpreparation as oppose to being underprepared for speaking engagements. I constantly review notes, transitions and potential questions I may receive during every speaking engagement.
I view anticipating questions, lulls and technical difficulties as war games. I find it easier to overcome these things by acknowledging they can pop up at any point. This additional groundwork helps me get comfortable before and during my speaking engagement. I still get nervous but know I can handle the task because of my preparation.
Researching the organization and people you’re speaking to helps you learn more about the audience so a tailored approach can be taken. This helps when incorporating examples and stories into a speech. Knowledge of the organization and audience helps generate talking points that fit so you can connect with them. I also target specific audience members based on my research. A quick LinkedIn search can provide an inside nugget I can use to connect with an audience member and seems to put others at ease because I took the time to learn more about them. This simple rapport building technique can be leveraged to help alleviate anxiety as well.
The ability to read the room is another critical component for public speakers. There will be times when you will need to adjust to match the emotions, reactions and body language of your audience. I go into every speaking engagement with a plan of action but because of practice, anticipation and knowledge of the group, I’m able to adjust on the fly (if needed).
I don’t put a lot of written content on slides to avoid limiting myself without a way to pivot if needed. I started incorporating key words and pictures into my presentations to focus attention back to me—the presenter. This always provides me with a pivot channel since I’m not tied to slide verbiage. The key words and/or pictures are used to guide me through the presentation. Practice provides the foundation to make this process work when standing in front of an audience.
Nonverbal communication can make or break your presentation. I make a point not to carry anything in my hands (pen/paper/etc.) except the audiovisual clicker. I try to put the clicker down until I need it to transition to the next slide. Carrying objects can distract your audience and I’ve seen these things distract the presenter as well.
Eye contact with audience members helps convey confidence and credibility as a subject matter expert. Speaking rate, pitch and effective use of pauses can help keep the audience members engaged and wanting to hear more from the speaker. I learned the benefits of audience engagement during my speaking roles in the Air Force and continue to add more tools to my speaking toolkit daily. Don’t be afraid to move around when speaking—this really conveys confidence but should be done with purpose. Too much moving looks like you’re trying to get away from them. 😊
These are a few things I’ve used to help eliminate speaking anxiety. Please note, I still get nervous, but I use my nerves to help fuel my public speaking. The one thing I ensure happens when speaking is to have fun. Might as well enjoy myself while I’m standing in front of a group—having fun seems to counteract anxiety and I’m able to press forward. Try it the next time you must speak in public!
- FYI: Don’t forget the impact Walk up Music can have on public speaking:
What techniques do you use to overcome speaking anxiety? How do you prepare for big speaking roles in your work environment?
Thanks for walking with me!
“Speech is power: speech is to persuade, to convert, to compel”.
(Ralph Waldo Emerson)