Your PR agency has booked you on a podcast. Or you have a product launch planned and it’s being suggested that you give the presentation that will launch this wonderful new offering to the world yourself. Which is great. Every brand needs a public face. The problem is that you are not familiar, or comfortable with, public speaking, so you are far from sure that you will be able to create the great impression everyone is hoping for.
It’s quite a dilemma, but not one that can’t be overcome.
Understanding and Coming to Terms with a Fear of Public Speaking
It was comedian Jerry Seinfeld who pretty much summed up the way that many people feel about public speaking; that a fear of public speaking ranks higher than a fear of death. And he was not too wrong, joking or not.
Even the brightest people, people who may quite gregarious and charming in their everyday lives, become terrified at the thought of having to deliver a speech or presentation in front of, or for, an audience. The anxiety that public speaking causes so much stress. And while experienced speakers overcome their fear after a while, many others do not and that can be a serious problem in terms of career and/or business advancement.
The Real Causes of a Fear of Public Speaking
According to experts who work with people to try to overcome a fear of public speaking, the reasons for their terror of the idea often turn out to be not what they had imagined at all. Jane Praeger, who not only coaches people in this predicament but teaches at the prestigious Columbia University in New York, says that a deep fear of speaking is likely to be related to an old personal issue rather than the simple nerves it is usually put down to. It is related to performance anxiety, lack of communication skills, or a social anxiety disorder.
In an article she wrote for Forbes magazine, Prager explained that a person whose parents, family, or even teachers showed a great deal of disapproval towards them as a child and grows up with a fear that they can live up to no one’s expectations, especially not an audience is likely to be particularly afraid of public speaking. Such fears can also be related to a fear that you are not as knowledgeable about the subject you are presenting as you should be.
Therefore, Prager suggests that someone whose fear of speaking in public goes deeper than a few nerves or stage fright that may improve as they become more accustomed to public speaking should consider working with someone to find out what that ‘real fear’ is and address it first.
Public Speaking Basics Everyone Should Master
When it comes to public speaking, there have been hundreds of books and articles written about the best way to go about making a great speech and some of the advice is often conflicting and even confusing. There is also no such thing as a one size fits all strategy, as people are all very different and have a personality unique to them that will affect the way they speak.
For example, both Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg (of Facebook) are great public speakers, but they have styles that are completely different, styles that have developed after having spent years ‘perfecting’ them.
So part of becoming a great public speaker is simply practicing. There are however some very basic things that can help anyone become a better public speaker as they hone their own style. Here are some of the most useful tips to improve your public speaking skills:
You are speaking in public because you have something interesting and new to convey to your audience and you really know your stuff, or at least that is the impression you want to convey.
Reading from a script, therefore, undermines that impression and should be avoided as far as possible. Even if you are appearing on a podcast, or a radio show, when technically it would be hard for an audience to tell that you were working with a script the breaks in eye contact or pauses in the flow of the speech as you read will give it away.
Put in the time before you make your speech in front of an audience to memorize your main talking points and then be willing to improvise when you are actually speaking. If you really cannot do without notes then make using them a part of your presentation. Instead of clutching a few flimsy sheets of paper carry a notebook that you glance down occasionally and that won’t betray your nerves by rustling in your shaking hand!
Confidence is (Almost) Everything
Any great public speaker will tell you that the success of any presentation depends about 10% on what you say and 90% on how you say it. Deliver your content as if you are the very best person in the world to be able to do so (even if you are personally not too sure of that) and speak clearly, enunciating your words and smiling, all of which can make even the most boring presentation engaging. Confidence is usually all about ‘fake it til you make it’. Plus, the more you practice the better you will be, that’s the basic principle of exposure therapy.
You also need to learn to make eye contact with your audience. If you look down or allow your gaze to wander aimlessly, you look shifty and untrustworthy, undermining the idea that what you have to say is in any way credible.
What if You Mess Something Up?
No one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes. The key to surviving one made while delivering any kind of speech is how you react and recover from a mistake. Too many presenters and speakers immediately begin to mumble apologies and become flustered. Don’t. It may be that your audience may not even notice your mistake and even if they do they will admire your grace under fire if you manage to simply carry on. Practice your breathing. You can find many breathing exercise videos online so you always remain calm even in the case of a mistake in front of your audience.
It sounds very basic, but practice really does make perfect. Don’t just practice in the mirror though. Record and/or film yourself (your webcam is fine) and then watch the footage with a somewhat detached air, noting where you went wrong so that you can address the issues before the real ‘performance’.
Pearl Lemon Leads does offer its clients media training, as some of our principals have extensive media experience of their own and can offer some very personal insights into what does and does not work. This is just another benefit you’ll gain when you chose Pearl Lemon Leads to handle your public relations. Contact us and we can discuss it further.
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