Overcoming the fear of public speaking

Tips to improve your public speaking

public speakingCALGARY, Alta. Jan 17, 2016/ Troy Media/ – Have you ever met someone who appears comfortable in front of a crowd of people delivering a speech, making a presentation, cracking jokes or performance acting? Wouldn’t you like to be like them? Trust me, looks can be deceiving! Now imagine how you would react if you were told that part of your job would include giving presentations and talks?

It is likely to happen, so get prepared now. Your career may depend on it!

As someone who averages in excess of three hours speaking to groups, making presentations and/or conducting workshops every week, I was contacted as an “expert” (Ha!) recently for an interview to help a training company prepare employees who will present material to groups large and small. The interviewer wanted help with three questions:

  • What are some of the best ways to get up to speed with public speaking if you’re suddenly promoted into a position that requires it?
  • What are some tips you have for effective public speaking?
  • What are some challenges to public speaking that people might face, and how can they deal with them?

Let’s take these on one at a time:

What are some of the best ways to get up to speed with public speaking if you’re suddenly promoted into a position that requires it?

  1. Seek a mentor. Ask someone you know and whose speaking ability you admire to coach and/or critique you during a practice session.
  2. Join a group like Toastmasters International. A membership is less than $100 in most areas. Even “natural” speakers have quirks that can be pointed-out and minimized or improved upon. (Mine is using the word, “Sure” when answering a question). On my way to church on Sundays I listen to a radio news program that includes some sort of audio puzzle. The Puzzle Master, Will Shortz, who is also the New York Times’ Puzzle Editor, has a habit where he starts every answer to a question with Yes. One more example: I am still a fan of my home town football team although I haven’t lived there in over two decades. One of the announcers begins virtually every sentence with the term, “I mean . . .”. Once I counted over 50 “I means” in half of a ball game! I wanted reach through the radio to strangle him! Joining an organization like Toastmaster can help hone your skills.

What are some tips you have for effective public speaking?

  1. Practice, practice, practice! Know your material cold!
  2. I conduct workshops and speak somewhere every week. No matter how many times I have presented material, I practice prior to every presentation.
  3. When giving a speech (without back visual material), use an outline to keep on topic. I have a bad habit of going off on tangents. An outline or notes have been a great help.
  4. When using PowerPoint or SlideShare, there‘s an apt term, “Death by PowerPoint.” PowerPoint hints:
    1. Words:
      1. The fewer words used, the better. Bullet points should be single words or short phrases not paragraphs.
      2. Reading long text is death!
      3. Use animation to focus the audience’s attention (see below)
    2. Images:
      1. Employ clipart or pictures that illustrate what your content is about
      2. Then add your dialogue
      3. This method keeps the audience focused on you
      4. It also gives you plenty of wiggle room . . . and can get a chuckle or 2
    3. Animation:
      1. Do NOT over animate! Don’t use crazy animation.
      2. Use the K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid) system!
      3. Animate each bullet point so you control the presentation
    4. Questions:
      1. Engage the audience by asking questions
      2. Point to specific members of the audience as examples
      3. If you don’t know the answer admit it, promise to get back with the person/people . . . then DO IT!

What are some challenges to public speaking that people might face, and how can they deal with them?

  1. Everyone has a fear of public speaking. Johnny Carson, Carol Burnett, Robin Williams and Jim Carrey (and me) all have been uncomfortable speaking at times. You are making yourself vulnerable. Being nervous is normal.
  2. You are likely to endure sweaty palms, nervous dripping underarms or head, dry mouth, cracking voice, the shakes. Most successful speakers (and actors/comedians) use self-deprecating humor to break the ice with the audience and simultaneously overcome their nervousness.
  3. As always, practice will make you more comfortable.

If you work on these principles not only will you likely advance your career, you will be respected and admired by your audience . . . none of whom would feel comfortable speaking to a crown like you just did.

Al Smith is co-author of the Amazon Top Rated book HIRED! Paths to Employment in the Social Media Era, a Keynote Speaker, Career Coach and Resume Writer. Al is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.


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