One of the most common phobias in America is that of having to stand in front of a group of people and talk about… well, anything. Yes my friends, it is widely known as the Fear of Public Speaking. It can range from slight nervousness or anxiety to a paralyzing fear, resulting in panic attacks. It’s something I have experienced myself when presenting some viable information to investors. However, with preparation and persistence, you can overcome this fear of stage fright.
Here are 7 Steps toward Success in Speaking:
- Know your topic. The better you understand your material and message— and the more passionate you are about the topic — the easier it will be for you to discuss the talking points and highlights without having to strictly read notes. In other words, speak from your heart. And if you do get lost, you’ll be able to seamlessly recover without anyone noticing. Take some time to anticipate what questions the audience may ask and have some responses ready.
- Preparation and Organization. Like any major event, you want to have some kind of plan. Outline the information you want to present, including any props, audio or visual aids you’ll use. If this is not your strength, then hire professional speech writers to write your material, create the visuals, and even coach you through your presenting style. You wouldn’t enter an athletic game without a coach, and public speaking is no different. It’s the sport of influence. The more organized your presentation, the more of a pro you will appear, thus the less nervous you will act in front of your audience.
- Practice, practice and keep practicing. Why? Like anything else in life, the more you actually DO an activity, the more comfortable you are performing that task. Think back to when you first began driving as a teen, you may have stalled out a few times, or even backed into a pole, but now you have no issues cruising through traffic on the 405 while listening to your headset. It becomes second nature. So practice your complete presentation several times. Do it for a few people you’re comfortable with to get feedback, or video yourself for your personal review. Make sure you practice using any equipment needed for your presentation.
- Visualize your success. I cannot say enough positive attributes for visualization. Every successful icon current and throughout history has used it for their own success. Simply Imagine yourself with a full audience, responding to your material, laughing at your jokes, and clapping at the perfect time. Each day you practice, spend about 5 minutes prior, doing some calm, deep breathing and creating a clear visual in your mind of this successful picture.
- Keep your focus on your material. One thing you cannot control is other people, so don’t spend any time focusing on or worrying about your audience. Always remember that people in general are supportive – they want your presentation and speech to go well. They also want to be engaged in your message. So keep your attention on what you know and can control, how your material and message get presented. Reading about great speeches of great presenters, such as Winston Churchill, or watching videos from great presenters on TED Talks, will also help you discover the presenting qualities that appeal to you.
- Remember to pause. Silence during your presentation is ok. If you had a humorous line, wait until the laughter dies down. If you lose track of what you’re saying, just pause, recollect your thoughts and continue as though that was a deliberate action. Your audience will not even recognize the minutiae mistake.
- Recognize your success. Be proud of yourself for presenting your speech. Remember celebrate the small triumphs. You are always your worst critic. View any mistakes you made as an opportunity to improve your public speaking skills. And if it really was as bad as you think, then definitely hire a speech writer and coach for the next one.
My last bit of advice is that humor goes a long way to get your message heard. If you have a natural sense of humor, and know your crowd well, then shooting from the hip may be easy for you. Laughing is a solid way to get your audience engaged in you, your message, and listening with open ears. The last thing any speaker wants is for people to start pulling out their smart phones half-way through the speech. If being funny isn’t one of your strong suits, then comedy writers are well worth your investment. A laughing audience is much more of a confidence builder than hearing crickets.