You have been provided the opportunity to speak publically, which is something that you have not done before. Eager to please the boss you work toward making the presentation the best that has ever existed. As the presentation approaches you realize you are beginning to become apprehensive and think to yourself, “this is silly, why am I so nervous!” During the final preparations, you feel ready to go, and the nerves have subsided.
As the time approaches for the speech that uneasy feeling begins to return and it is getting worse by the moment. Standing before the group your heart starts beating violently, and you feel like you might just die. The audience seemingly begins to stare at you, and your stomach starts to sink. You think to yourself, “I am surely going to faint!” As you stand there with eyes focused and eager listeners, await to hear your opening remarks the room feels as if it is closing in. You have studied and prepared to give a great speech, but now a feeling of distress develops as a thought creeps up that you might forget everything that was prepared. You do not know if the words will come out right. The overwhelming sense of fear is certain to overcome you, and everything within you wants to cry out for your mother to save you.
Public speaking is gaining ground within the workplace, and more frequently individuals are asked to give presentations. While most people are afraid of public speaking, it is important to note that presenters can increase their visibility within the organization. Presentations allow others to see the skills and knowledge that may not have been noticed previously. But preparing and giving speeches is much easier than one might think.
What is public speaking?
The art of public speaking has been used for thousands of years to present ideas to audiences. Public speaking has three primary goals, which are to persuade, inform, and entertain others. Presenting to an audience requires an enormous amount of detail. Presentations must be structured well, utilizes a more formal language than casual conversation, and requires the delivery method to be refined. Public speaking is a process that includes a speaker who intends to deliver a message and an audience who wants to receive that message. The speaker knows that a message has adequately been received by the feedback that is provided by the audience. Feedback can be verbal or non-verbal. When a message is disrupted by something that is called interference. Interference can be anything that causes a misunderstanding of the intended message to be received. When interference is determined, it is important that the public speaker engages in another attempt to send the message in the way, the audience can understand.
The Fear of Public Speaking
Rarely does it occur when an individual is a natural at public speaking and who gains excitement in presenting speeches. Fear of public speaking is widespread and completely normal. Over 75% of people are afraid of public speaking, and it is the most common social phobia. This fear is called, “glossophobia,” which translates from the Greek as “fear of tongue.” The concerns that are attached with communicating to groups are genuine to those who are standing in the middle of the stage.
Most leaders are called on to perform public speaking at some point in the life of their careers. According to Kim Dower, “Public speaking, second to dying, is the greatest fear that anyone has.” Other research has found that the fear of public speaking is even higher than the fear of dying. Some of the most common fears are: (1) fainting, (2) boring the audience, (3) going blank, (4) fear of judgment, but these fears can be overcome.
1. Fainting. The mind can have a strong effect on the body, but public speaking rarely ends with someone fainting. This is extremely uncommon. Some common tips to decrease the possibility of passing out is to remember not to lock your knees and continue to breathe normally.
2. Boring the Audience. People listen to speeches for a purpose. Each person who is listening is attempting to gain new knowledge. The chances are the reason you are presenting on a subject is that you have knowledge others need. During the research and development stage, it is important to seek material that will engage the audience. It is much easier to keep the audience’s attention when relevant information is being presented. Make it appeal to the group to which you will be speaking and use relevant facts, numerical data, and funny stories to engage the audience. When I first began presenting, I stood in one place, did not use my hands, and I used a monotone voice pattern. As I developed, I found that audience respond much better to those who use their bodies to convey their message. Smile at the audience, use your hands and body movements to refine the message, and use voice-patterns that are moving and more typical in casual conversations. This can be easier said than done, but with practice, it does get easier.
3. Going Blank. Speaking in public has its advantages and one of those advantages is that you can use notes. In fact, most people who speak use notes. It is impossible to remember everything that you will say when giving a speech, so presenters live by notes. The most important thing to do when using notes is not to read directly from the notes, but to use them as a starting point. The preparation happens in the background while you are putting the information together. Doing your “due-diligence” will help you to identify what you will say in advance. Some people use simple bullet points, and I used to be one of those individuals. Over the years, I have found it to be better to type out most of what I will say, that way I am practicing each word, while I am preparing for the speech. By the time, I get up to speak for the most part I know what I will say. Having the notes does much more than provide an outline, but an escape for those who may go blank during a presentation.
4. Fear of Judgement. Public speaking can make a person feel extremely vulnerable, and the judgment of others may feel like it is looming. When audiences can see that their presenter is not only knowledgeable about the subject but is also enthusiastic, they are more willing to look past mistakes that may occur during the presentation. There will always be individuals who know more than you but do not worry about them. Most people listen intently and will provide support to the speaker.
Develop A Communication Strategy
Given the fears that traditionally come along with public speaking, it is important to have a strategy. Fear can lead to missed opportunities. While strategy does not guarantee complete success, it will increase the odds for success. Preparation is the key to performing well during a speech. Preparation can remove fear and develop an inner confidence. Effective communicators develop strategies for speaking engagements. Below are ten strategies for enhancing public speaking:
- Know the direction. When presenting it is essential to determine what the information will be and how to best present that information. Understanding the direction is crucial to develop the plan. Having a clear purpose will direct the research and development process of the speech to enhance clarity within the information to be presented. All good speeches have a definite beginning, middle, and end.
- Know your audience. A speech that is made to groups of different backgrounds may be received differently. It is imperative to craft the message in a way to appeal to specific audiences to enhance understanding. Much more, knowing the audience and even its location can reduce anxiety. For the most part, understand the audience is on your side and desire to see the presentation succeed.
- Know your style. Those who give speeches organize them on paper differently, but the important thing to note is they do write them down. You will need to determine whether it is better to write down the information in an outline format or by writing your speech word-for-word. Begin by writing an outline to organize critical information to be presented.
- Know the data and interpret it. Do not just read information, but instead provide information in creative ways to captivate the audience. Data can be demonstrated in charts and graphs more clearly than in complicated speech. Use statistical analysis to enhance the presentation, but be careful make sure others can quickly follow.
- Know what information to include. After the outline is prepared for the speech and the gathering process has begun, the goal of the speech writer should be to include only the information which is pertinent to the topic at hand.
- Know how to practice. Public speaking is developed through practice, and in most cases, those who can present and “wow” and audience are those who have spent countless hours preparing and practicing their craft. Practicing a speech by yourself is good, but having others who can listen and provide feedback is better. Practicing a speech aloud will enable the content to be spoken during a presentation with less effort. Practicing is more-or-less about becoming more comfortable with the material and yourself.
- Know your rate of speech. Fear can cause presenters to speak faster than they should, so it is important to remember to slow down and take your time when giving a speech. When preparing for a speech paying attention to the rate of speech can produce dividends during the presentation and enable a message that is more clearly identified. There is a balance when determining the rate of speech. Do not speak so rapidly as to be named an auctioneer and do not be so slow in speaking to be considered a hypnotist.
- Know how to relax. Ultimately when preparing for and giving a speech choosing to relax is key. The goal of a speech is not to impress others, but to convey a message that is needed. Do not spend time trying to make things complicated, but instead focus on simplicity. Having too much to think about causes stress. When presentations are complex, there is an increased chance of technical failure and various other types of failure. It is easy to work yourself up, but simplicity brings about inner peace and will bring about mental clarity.
- Know how to dress. Confidence and comfort are key when addressing an audience. Public speakers should seek to understand what type of clothing is appropriate for the venue in which they will be speaking. Many who are asked to prepare a presentation for their first time go shopping to look for something that will impress the audience, but if the clothes are not comfortable, this can cause distractions for the presenter and the audience. Comfort helps to bring confidence. Presenters must strive to wear clothes that are both appropriate and comfortable.
- Know where to look. Common advice tells those who are new to public speaking to picture the audience in underwear, but that does not work. It is best to find a few friendly faces in the audience to look at and pretend you are having a single conversation with them. It is also important to realize not to look at a person to long, as it will make both parties uncomfortable.
No one likes to feel vulnerable and taking time to follow the steps provided above can help to relieve the tension that comes along with the art of public speaking. Fear can be described as “false evidence appearing real,” but fear of public speaking is simply fear of the unknown. Overcoming this fear takes time and practice. Having a set strategy will increase your ability to be effective, will open the door to better preparation techniques, and ultimately will help you to feel more comfortable when standing in front of a room full of staring eyes.