October 12, 2017

How To Beat Your Fear Of Public Speaking

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Do you fear speaking in public? What thoughts and doubts run through your head when you are asked to make a speech? These are some of the common ones I have heard:

  • “But am I even qualified at all to speak?”
  • “But I’m not a trained speaker!”
  • “But I’m scared! What if they boo me off the stage?”
  • “But I’m not confident enough.”
  • “But what if I run out of things to say?”
  • “But I’m too shy.”
  • These are all valid concerns. When I asked new students at a public speaking class whether they thought these problems could be overcome, they were emphatic. “No!”

    Do you feel the same way too? Let’s take these doubts and fears and turn them into 6 ways by which you can start enjoying your public speaking experience.

    1. “But am I even qualified at all to speak?”

    Once upon a time I was chatting with a young man who was convinced he could not speak in public because he was shy. During our conversation, I found out that he was a musician who had been playing drums 4 hours daily for the past 10 years. That works out to over 10,000 hours of his life spent behind a drum kit. When I asked him whether he was confident enough to speak for just 5 minutes on his passion for music, he nodded enthusiastically. Why? Because he knew his subject inside out, he was more than qualified to talk about it (see point 5).

    What are you good at? What special knowledge do you have? If your life experiences, interests, training and education match a particular subject, you are qualified to speak fearlessly to people who need that information. Wouldn’t you enjoy sharing it with them?

    2. “But I’m not a trained speaker!”

    Cristiano Ronaldo is probably one of the most technically gifted footballers of his generation. But he didn’t get to the top on pure talent alone – he developed himself through hours of training. As it is with sports, so it is with speaking.

    The surest way to become skilled is to get training. Today the options are many. If you have the resources, you can sign up for live seminars, attend a speaking course or get lessons from a private tutor. If you want free lessons, get onto the internet and take part in webinars or browse through the thousands of web pages and videos on public speaking. You can also learn by observing outstanding communicators (actors, broadcasters, ministers and politicians to name just a few) who make their living from speaking. How do they arrange their ideas? How do they move on the stage? How do they use words to paint verbal pictures? You can learn a lot by careful study.

    As you begin to master the various components of communication, you will notice that you are more willing to speak at public events. You will be well on your way to enjoying the experience without being needlessly scared.

    3. “But I’m scared! What if they boo me off the stage?”

    Have you ever gone to the cinema expecting the movie to be boring? I doubt it. You sit in your seat, fix your eyes on the screen and look forward to being entertained. Most people will have similar expectations when you mount the stage to address them. They will want you to succeed. That means they are effectively on your side even before you open your mouth. But it also means that you are responsible when you spot them displaying signs of disinterest (see point 5 on how to deal with this).

    As you make your way to the stage, know that most people in the room are rooting for you. That assurance should calm any nerves you have and set the tone for a pleasurable speaking experience.

    4. “But I’m not confident enough.”

    I once saw a documentary where a wild goat was filmed bounding up an impossibly steep cliff at top speed. Never once did the beast lose its footing because it was naturally equipped to not just survive but thrive in this harsh environment. Similarly, a speaker who knows his or her subject is suitably equipped to step in front of room full of people and communicate without fear of slipping up.

    Confidence comes from certainty, from knowing where you stand. Be like the proverbial blind man who warns you that you’re the target of a stone he’s about to throw – know what you’re standing on. For you to get the confidence to speak in public, decide only to talk about things you know (see point 1). That is a surefire way to enjoy speaking in public. And it doesn’t matter whether the setting is a corporate or social one; if you don’t know, don't be afraid to say no to the invitation.

    5. “But what if I run out of things to say?”

    When you spot a driver’s mate clutching an empty gallon and jumping out of stalled passenger buspacked with irate passengers, you know the driver just ran out of fuel. As a speaker, you also risk running out of information - your fuel - if you fail to prepare well. And if your audience ends up being disappointed in your performance, who takes the responsibility? Of course, you do.

    A few questions are key when you are asked to give a talk: What makes you qualified to speak on the topic? Who will you be speaking to? What is the purpose of the talk? How long do you have on the stage? In answering these questions, you will be providing the fuel for your speech. Only after that can you get down to actually organizing the talk with an arresting introduction, a definite body and an upbeat closing statement. Approach your next public speaking assignment this way and you can be sure you won’t be concerned about running out of things to say.

    6. “But I’m too shy.”

    When I asked a pastor how he overcame his shyness, this is what he said: “I decided to open my mouth and speak at every opportunity I got. Before long, my shyness and my fear had disappeared.” Perfect strategy. Decide to do something about your problem and then just do it.

    Shyness is often a result of focusing too much on yourself. You worry that you may not make a good impression on others and so you withdraw into your own private world. You can conquer your shyness but you have to do it in small steps. Nobody gets up one fine morning to discover that they have suddenly acquired the ability to speak in public for thirty minutes and receive a standing ovation for their efforts. Start by deciding to be the first at a public forum to ask a question. Do that for a while and then graduate to making suggestions and contributions at meetings. Before long you will be looking forward to opportunities to speak in public and when you tell people how shy you were in the past, they will exclaim: “Who, you?”

    To beat your fear of speaking in public, remember these 6 tips:

  • Be qualified
  • Get trained
  • Expect to do well
  • Know your subject inside out
  • Prepare thoroughly; and
  • Find opportunities to speak.