Lose the Fear: Get out there and speak
You’ve heard it said many times before – the fear of speaking is considered by many as their number one fear, outdistancing death and divorce. There are legendary stories of entertainment superstars who undergo extraordinary episodes of stage fright immediately before they perform…
They experience blurred vision, nausea and headaches – even after performing hundreds of times. So, if these entertainers face anxiety on stage, is it any wonder that the rest of us may be fearful of appearing before groups? That anxiety may even prevent us from reaching our fullest potential, since we may tend to avoid speaking opportunities that could advance our career.
A learned skill
While there are many effective methods of relaxation that can help reduce our fear of speaking, the most important step is fundamental. We must begin by recognising that making presentations is a learned skill. For most of us, it is not something we can simply get up and do effectively without having at least some basic training.
Many executives have unrealistic expectations about their speaking ability, believing that they can achieve proficiency without much effort. This attitude leads to significant frustration when their lax efforts fail to produce the desired results. As one CEO told me during a coaching session, “If I can run a billion-dollar company, then I ought to be able to give a twenty-minute speech without being fearful!”
I address the fear and frustration issues by asking executives, “How many times do you give major presentations each year?” It is usually a small number – perhaps five times. Then I ask, “How often do you make major decisions at the company?” “Practically every day, of course” is the common answer. I respond, “So why do you expect your speaking skills to be as developed as your decision-making ability? You simply do not speak enough to have overcome those fears of public speaking.”
Once an executive accepts the fact that it takes time to develop his or her speaking skills, the pressure is off to become a “perfect” speaker. When such a small amount of time is devoted to public speaking, one cannot expect to excel without some coaching and a little practice. Effectiveness is always a reasonable goal even with those executives who don’t speak often. But perfection is unrealistic, and impossible.
Take action: rehearse and then rehearse again
Once you accept that making effective presentations is a learned skill, taking the time to rehearse is a natural step. Rehearsing your presentation over and over again will greatly reduce anxiety. David Peoples, who has trained more than 8,000 IBM salespeople, says, “The single most important thing you can do for sweaty palms is rehearse. The second most important thing you can do for sweaty palms is rehearse. Guess what the third thing is?”
The more familiar you become with your material, the more the words flow from you credibly and passionately. The more comfortable you feel with your words, the more naturally you present your speech. That’s why good speakers practise – and practise again. Here are two simple ways for you to rehearse your presentation.
Nothing will improve your presentation more than seeing yourself on videotape. You will notice mannerisms about yourself that you never noticed before. And you will instantly begin to make changes.
Listening to yourself on audiotape is another tool to use when you rehearse your presentations. Immediately, you’ll know if you are speaking too quickly, too slowly, or if some words are difficult to understand. You will hear mistakes in grammar and inappropriate “ums” and “ahs” that are quite easily removed from your presentation when you are aware of them. The audio sessions will also help you zero in on content and vocal skills.
Passion eliminates fear
Perhaps the quickest way to decrease speech anxiety is to allow the emotion of the subject to fill your heart. Those who speak with passion will most certainly have less anxiety. As speaker Roxanne Emmerich says, “When you are so committed to the meaning of your message, you can’t contain yourself and there is no energy left for being nervous.”
Now You’re Ready!
You’ve just been introduced. You walk to the lectern and are about to say your first words. Wait! You have one more chance to unwind.
Try this: pause for a few seconds and “take in” your audience. Establish eye contact with them. Breathe deeply, smile, and allow yourself to relax for a moment. Now you are ready to begin!
What’s the worst that could happen?
In virtually every case, a person’s fear of public speaking is unjustified. What’s the worst that could happen? You could trip on stage, freeze, forget a sentence, fumble a line, stammer, or shake. None of these is fatal. The worst that could happen probably won’t. Yet if it does, you will live through it!
Morton C. Orman, a medical doctor and popular speaker, says, “Even if you pass out, get tongue-tied, or say something stupid during your talk – they won’t care! As long as they get something of value, they will be thankful.”
Rob Sherman is an attorney, speaker and author of Sherman’s 21 Laws of Speaking: How to Inspire Others to Action. Rob founded the Sherman Leadership Group based in Columbus, Ohio, and works with business and association executives who want to take their speaking and leadership skills to a higher level.
Rob has a free presentation and negotiation Ezine that comes out monthly. To sign up or review back issues, visit www.ShermanLeadership.com.
4 July 2011