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!
Are you afraid of public speaking? Well, you’re not alone, as illustrated in the humorous clip above from Jerry Seinfeld. Year after year, the fear of public speaking ranks No. 1 in study after study.
There’s even a fancy word to describe the fear of public speaking – glossophobia. Gloss comes from the Greek word for tongue and phobia, of course, is Greek for fear.
In our next post, we’ll present some tips to deal with anxiety and the fears you face when doing public speaking or making business presentations. But for now, know that you are not alone and help is on the way!
“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!