Are you surprised that the fear of public speaking is the number one fear of our society - probably not. In fact if you are reading this you most likely suffer from this fear just like so many others.
Have you ever thought how strange it is that people who speak comfortably to a group of peers are paralyzed with fear when a lectern and a microphone are placed in front of them?
I am reminded of a comment made in the TV series Seinfeld.
If you perform a search on the internet for the number one fear in our society, you will find that it is that of public speaking. It may be surprising that the fear of death is actually number six. A natural conclusion from these two statistics is that for most people, if they had to go to a funeral it would be better to be in the casket than giving the eulogy.
Now I don't want to make light of people's challenges; however I do believe that most people's fear of public speaking is out of proportion. They get themselves into a vicious circle of fear and poor performance. They are afraid of a public speaking opportunity and this causes them to procrastinate and not prepare. As a result they do a poor job. They use this situation as a reason to believe that they are poor speakers and are therefore all the more afraid.
It Is Time to Break the Cycle of Fear
By keeping a few simple rules in mind we can start to break the cycle and start producing quality presentations that move our audience to action. These rules include what I call the foundation of public speaking - overcoming fear, preparation, and relevance.
1) Controlling the Fear
Here are a few techniques that when applied can have dramatic effect on your fear. They may seem obvious but their effectiveness is not diminished by their simplicity.
o Remember, this is not the worse thing to happen to you. The results of you stumbling on a few words or forgetting a point may cause you some minor embarrassment, but generally nothing more than that. This is a fear that we need to keep in perspective.
o Remember that your audience wants you to succeed. They are in attendance because they are interested in your material, not because they are hoping that you will fail. You may stumble, forget points, or make mistakes in some other way and feel that it was the worst presentation ever. If you don't point out the mistakes your audience will quite often not even notice them.
o Focus on the material that you know and understand, not your fear. People become paralyzed by fear because they focus on it. If you slow down and focus on your material you will find that the fear will gradually diminish.
There are two aspects to preparation:
The first aspect is to make sure that you know your material. If you are not knowledgeable about your subject it will not only be apparent to your audience but it will cause you to feel nervous. Conversely, in depth knowledge of your subject will not only be appreciated by your audience but also increase your confidence. For instance, you will know that you have the knowledge and understanding to deal with questions from your audience.
The second preparation aspect is to practice your presentation.
Most individuals are so paralyzed by their fear that they avoid any preparation at all. Then they get up before their audience and appear incompetent because they are unprepared.
Here are two approaches to practicing.
One is to practice the specific speech that you are giving. You can practice on your own - for instance in front of the mirror or a video camera. You can also practice in front of others - with your friends and family or even in front of some of the individuals who will be part of your audience. Become comfortable with the presentation and get feedback from those that you trust.
You can also practice speaking skills in general. The better you are at speaking the better any specific presentation will be. You can learn to speak publicly in organizations such as Toastmasters International. Toastmasters is an excellent place to practice speaking in a safe environment so that you are prepared the next time you have to present.
3) Be Relevant
There is nothing worse than having to sit through a presentation that is not relevant. Make sure that you understand your audience and their needs. Do not talk down to them, but just as important make sure that you give them the background that they require in order to understand your position.
A good presenter is someone who can give a speech on any topic and make it interesting to any individual by crafting it with relevance.
By approaching public speaking and presentations as a leader rather than a victim, you will be able to motivate your audience to action. Make sure that you conquer your fear by focusing on your well prepared material that is relevant to your audience and you will inspire your audience to new heights.