It was exciting and inspiring to see so many of my former public speaking students graduate this week from Brown Mackie College in Phoenix. Following the ceremony, I had the opportunity to congratulate and chat with them for a few moments about their experiences. Many told me that what they learned in my public speaking class was already paying off as they begin to do job interviews. Others said the skills they learned are helping them communicate better in the workplace. Some said the skills they learned were even helping them in their interpersonal relationships. All said they were thankful they took the course. It was a very rewarding experience hearing that what they learned was helping them as they prepare to tackle the real world.
I was so proud of my students for overcoming their fears and becoming better presenters. And I learned as much from them as they did from me. In addition to the normal fears of public speaking, some of them faced additional challenges including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorder, and speech impediments. I will remember all of them for their perseverance and their accomplishments. The student pictured with me above was among the most memorable. She was so determined to deliver her persuasive speech the day after her lung surgery that she did so from her hospital bed via Skype. That set the bar pretty high!
The graduation ceremony was bittersweet. Brown Mackie College is closing and this was the last commencement ceremony ever. But that did not dampen the spirits of the Class of 2017. Congratulations graduates! Best of luck and may all of your speeches be great ones!
In my 20-year career working at six major corporations, I witnessed many people who were passed over for promotions. Many found their ideas were not taken seriously. They just didn’t seem like “management material.” Most of them had the knowledge they needed to do the job. So why didn’t they advance in their careers? Answer: the fear of public speaking. They lacked the confidence to speak up and the communication skills to stand out, and it cost them.
Conversely, I’ve seen people who were very good talkers but didn’t necessarily have as much knowledge as others on their work teams. They often times were taken more seriously and got promotions they perhaps didn’t deserve. Ideally, those who advance in life should be good communicators and know what the heck they are talking about.
Don’t let fear paralyze your career. Before you can gain the confidence to speak and learn the skills to stand out in this highly competitive world, you have to first put fear in your rear view mirror.
You can begin to eliminate your fears of public speaking long before you step to the front of the room to deliver your business presentation or speech. You can take steps in the preparation phase that will reduce stress, anxiety and your fears of failure.
Preparing for Your Presentation
A speech or presentation begins as soon as you accept the assignment. That’s when you begin to do your audience analysis, content development and rehearsals.
Practice, practice, practice! There is no substitute. Practice aloud. Practice in front of a mirror. Practice in front of your friends or family. Record yourself. Have someone else read your speech to you.
Memorize your outline, not your speech. This will allow you to speak more authentically and appear to be more credible.
Believe at least one thing in your speech will be meaningful to at least one person in the audience. That’s not a high hurdle. But if you do not believe that with all your heart then you have two choices: rewrite your speech until you do believe it or stay home.
Make a packing list so you don’t forget handouts, visual aids, etc.
If you have presentation materials, scripts, or any technology, have a backup plan. Technology can and will fail.
Come prepared with a small bottle of room temperature water and throat drops. Keep them handy while you’re speaking. A coughing fit can ruin a presentation.
Remove coins, keys, etc. from your pockets. If you fidget with a ring or watch when you’re nervous, remove the distraction.
The more prepared you are, the less fearful you will be. We will look at additional steps to overcome public speaking fears future posts. So, don’t be afraid to check back frequently!
“If you can’t write your message in a sentence, you can’t say it in an hour.” ~ Dianna Booher
When you are preparing a speech or business presentation, take the time to develop a well-crafted thesis statement that explains what you want your audience to understand, believe or do when you have finished speaking. This one sentence statement will serve as the fountainhead for the rest of your speech and it’s worth taking the time to think it through and get it just right.
If you can’t figure out what you’re trying to say, your audience never will. But when you craft a great thesis statement, a speech can sometimes almost write itself.
Should you do everything possible to eliminate “ums” and “ahs” from your speaking? Some organizations and public speaking trainers go to great lengths to eradicate them. They charge fines, ring bells, snap rubber bands on wrists, embarrass you publicly and try all sorts of other methods to get you to stop making these filler noises. And yet, some of the greatest speakers of our time “um” and “ah.” For instance, Barrack Obama uses “um” and “ahs” a lot, but most people consider him to be a great orator.
So what should you do about your “ums” and “ahs?”
Here’s my take: If it’s not a distraction, don’t worry about the occasional “um” or “ah.” If you are preparing for a presentation, many of these filler noises will disappear anyway as you practice and become more comfortable with your content. Most people “um” and “ah” as a filler noise when they are trying to think of what to say next. Many speakers are afraid of silence and think every second must be filled with some sort of noise. But as you become more familiar with your content, you will be less concerned with what you’re going to say next. This is one of many reasons practice is important when preparing for a presentation.
If your “ums” and “ahs” are a distraction and aren’t dissipating even after you are familiar with your content, then you can work to eliminate the distraction by first becoming aware when you are doing it and then by concentrating on replacing the filler noises with a pause. It takes time and an intense focus, but you can eliminate these distractions and replace then with pauses. And, as discussed before, pauses can be incredibly powerful.
Being authentic and sincere affects your credibility and credibility is the most important quality to have to communicate effectively. So, relax. Be yourself. Be comfortable. And have fun!
“The success of your presentation will be judged not by the knowledge you send but by what the listener receives.” ~ Lilly Walters
Nervous ticks make you look less confident and make your message seem less credible. If you fiddle with a ring or watch while speaking, simply remove the objects. Likewise, empty change from your pockets. You could try to remember not to fidget with these objects, but you have enough to remember when you are presenting. Remove the distractions, remove the worry.
“You can speak well if your tongue can deliver the message of your heart.” ~ John Ford
The best speeches are stories. And the best stories are from your heart. The good news for public speakers is these stories don’t have to be memorized because they are your stories.
So, how do you tell a good story that stays on point? Try this storytelling formula:
Introduction (set the scene)
Problem or Conflict
The Outcome or Results (this is the point of the whole thing)
Storytelling is perhaps the most powerful form of communication. So, go on. Speak up and speak from your heart. Talk about what you know about. Talk about what you care about. Talk about your passions. And as always, be yourself and have fun!
“90% of how well the talk will go is determined before the speaker steps on the platform.” ~ Somers White
When does a speech begin? Answer: The moment you get the assignment. That’s when you begin the research and the planning for what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it. Great public speaking doesn’t just happen. A great presentation starts with a solid thesis statement and a well-thought-out outline. Investing the time upfront to develop a thesis and an outline will pay big dividends when you step to the microphone for your presentation.
I first saw legendary comedic actor Don Knotts present this hilarious “hero” speech in the above movie clip when “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” debuted in 1966. I was only 6 years old but even then I could clearly understand how scary it would be to have to go onstage to speak with the entire town looking at you. This movie continues to be one of my all-time favorites and the “hero” speech continues to resonate with me all these many years later.
There are so many mistakes Knott’s character, Luther Heggs, makes in this speech: his poor attempt at humor, his loose leaf script blows away, he has a heckler, the microphone has feedback issues, and he doesn’t know how to stand or how to control his nervous energy. But one thing saves this speech from being an unmitigated disaster: authenticity. Luther Heggs is who he is. His transparency and sincerity shine through in this speech and throughout the movie. He’s genuine and therefore credible. Audiences are very forgiving of mistakes made by sincere speakers. (Spoiler Alert: He beats out a slick rival and gets the girl in the end because of his authenticity.)
Authenticity always has been important in speech-making (and in fact in all communications) but it is even more important in the Digital Age. We’ve grown tired and beyond skepticism of overproduced, slick presentations as evidenced by the success of reality TV, SnapChat, and YouTube. The message that resonated with movie audiences in 1966 that still resonates today is this: be yourself. Atta boy Luther!
I visited a call center once that was operated by the airline I was working for at the time. I noticed that each of the workstations had a mirror mounted near the telephone. As each call center representative prepared to answer an incoming call, they would look briefly into the mirror and smile.
Why do you suppose they did that? That’s right — because it influenced how they felt as they answered the phone and that translated into a more friendly tone for the customer listening on the other end. Their body language was able to trick their own brains. As a result, they were able to offer a better experience for their customers.
We all know that our feelings can influence our body language, but we don’t always recognize that the opposite is equally true – our body language can influences how we feel.
Implications for Public Speaking
So why is this important for a presenter or speaker to know? This is why: If you stand confidently when making a presentation or speech, you will begin to feel more confident. And as your confidence rises, so will your credibility in the eyes of your audience. They audience will react positively to your confidence and that will cause you to become even more energized and even more confident. The effect will begin to snowball.
Make Body Language a Habit
This is the strategy behind social psychologist Amy Cuddy’s “fake it until you make it until you become it.” Or, yet another way we can look at this idea is as the famous Greek philosopher and teacher Aristotle said: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” I’m sure Aristotle would agree that confident speaking also can become a habit.
By standing straight, planting our feet shoulders width apart, making appropriate eye contact, smiling, and getting our hands free and our shoulders relaxed so that we can gesture naturally, we can project an air of confidence on the outside and begin to feel more confident on the inside.
Think of it as a Jedi mind trick — on yourself! So, take a look in the mirror and smile — you got this! And may the Force be with you!