Overcoming the Fear of Public Speaking Learn How to Make It a “Piece of Cake”
A public speaking event is any situation in which you are speaking in front of a group of people. Whether you are presenting information to two people or two hundred people, you have an audience. Public speaking can take many forms, including: formal presentations using PowerPoint, presenting a report on a project to your team, answering a question, making a comment at a meeting, presenting ideas to your manager, brainstorming, participating in a conference call, just to name a few.
The words “public speaking” can make many people very nervous! This nervousness can often be traced all the way back to our middle and high school years. I’m sure we can all remember a time when we had to stand in front of our class and give a presentation on a particular topic, being totally scared out of our minds.
Some people just seem to be natural public speakers. They sound like they have confidence, are in control, and are very convincing, while others do not. What is their secret? How can you sound so convincing and sure of yourself?
If you fear public speaking, here are some guidelines that will help you overcome those fears and help make your presentations a “piece of cake.”
1. Know your material You should be knowledgeable about your topic and feel comfortable talking about it. Knowing your material inside and out is one key factor in giving a good presentation. If there are sections of your talk in which you do not feel quite as comfortable as others, make sure and review that information or ask for assistance from someone who does. Do this as soon as possible, so that you have enough time to become familiar with it.
2. Rehearse what you are going to say Practice your speech over and over and over again until you know it by heart. I can’t emphasize this enough! The more familiar you are with what you are going to say, the more confident and relaxed you will be. This means that you will need to practice more than three times. It might take 20 times or more of going through your presentation before you feel comfortable and know it well. In other words, go through it until you feel you’ve reached the point where you don’t feel nervous in practice.
To make your rehearsals feel more realistic, you can stand in front of a mirror while you give your presentation, or have your family members listen to you and provide you with feedback when you're done. Another great idea is to record what you say and then go back and listen to it to pick out your strengths and weaknesses.
3. Make eye contact with your audience When giving presentations or talks in person, it is important that you take a few seconds at a time to look at each person in the room. This will let them that know you are talking directly to them. As hard as this is, it is very important to do. Find someone in the audience that is smiling at you, and focus on them first. We always feel more comfortable and relaxed when we know the person we are speaking to is enjoying our talk. Similarly, don’t spend too much time looking at someone who is not smiling, as you want to avoid thinking negatively.
4. Smile! When you look at people in your audience, try to smile! Let them know that you are comfortable with your material, you are happy to be speaking to them, and you are confident. If you don’t smile, you might send more of a negative message to your listeners.
5. Have fun! Try not to be too serious. The best speakers always seem to have fun. They may tell a joke or funny story at the beginning and insert little anecdotes as they go along, making you feel relaxed and comfortable. Laughter is important because it helps us relax and establish a rapport with the speaker. Once that connection is made, your audience will happily pay closer attention to you.
6. Speak slowly When speaking in front of a group, always remember that, “slower is better” when it comes to speaking rate. Speaking clearly and take your time to pronounce all the sounds in words so that your audience understands your speech easily is important. If you speak too quickly, you may tend to slur over sounds or words or present too much information on one breath. This may make it difficult for your audience to follow you.
7. Speak loudly enough You must speak loudly enough so that your audience hears you comfortably. If you notice people are leaning forward, frowning, turning one ear toward you, or asking you to repeat, these are good clues that you may be speaking too softly. You may even want to ask your audience before you begin if everyone can hear you comfortably, just to make sure that the people furthest away from you can hear you.
8. Use lots of stressing Stressing refers to the up and down melody we use when we emphasize an important word. The more you stress, the more enthusiastic you will sound to your audience. Hence, they will pay more attention to you if you are enthusiastic versus flat and uninteresting. Who wants to listen to someone who doesn’t show any emotions about what they are discussing?
9. Speak in sentences that are easy to understand and that are not too long Keep your sentence length manageable. Avoid speaking in very long, complex sentences that continue and continue with “and”, “but”, so”, etc. Sentences that are too long and complex are difficult to understand. People may ask you to repeat if you use too many run-on sentences because they are just too hard to follow and process quickly. As a general guideline, construct sentences that contain only one conjunction that connects either two statements or a phrase and a statement. You can even add an additional phrase, when appropriate.
Let’s look at some examples Example 1: “I will not be able to attend the meeting this afternoon because I have to leave work early.” This statement is made up of two thoughts. The first one is, “I will not be able to attend the meeting this afternoon” and the second one is, “I have to leave work early.” The conjunction used to connect them is “because.”
Example 2: "Because I was late for work, I missed and important meeting, and my manager was very upset with me." This statement is made up of two thoughts and a phrase. It consists of a phrase at the beginning of the sentence, which is, “Because I was late for work." The two complete thoughts are “I missed an important meeting” and “My manager was very upset with me.” The conjunction used to connect the thoughts is “and.”
10. Pause after you make an important point This is a very effective speaking technique! Pausing for 2-3 seconds after you say something new or important gives your audience a chance to process what you said and ask relevant questions. Use pausing to your advantage!
11. Use the “three-step process” when answering questions or making comments If you speak in front of a group of people on a regular basis, you know that most of the time you will need to go into some detail to answer a question or make a comment effectively. In meetings, you may have to speak for a few minutes to effectively convey your thoughts and ideas. This is where what I call the the three-step process comes in handy. It is a great speaking technique to help you organize your thoughts and express yourself concisely. You can use this process in almost every speaking situation, whether it is work-related or not.
Here is an example of how to use the three-step process at work:
Give the bottom line first. Answer the question directly. For example: Question: Who do you think we should target it in our Campaign X? Bottom line: Our analysis shows that we should target customers in region D for this campaign.
Provide details to support the answer by listing them. This will make your response organized and clear. For example: Details: We should target region D for the following three reasons. 1) Customers in region D buy 50% more of our products than in any other area 2) Customers in this region have more money to spend, and 3) customers in region D go shopping more often than customers in regions A, B, and C.
End with a conclusion or summary to let your audience know you are done. For example: This project is looking good and should be completed by May 1st.
12. Don’t repeat yourself over and over Many of us like to hear ourselves talk and may tend to say more than we actually need to. In addition, when we are nervous we may tend to repeat ourselves. Try to say what you need to say once and as concisely as possible, rather than saying the same thing over and over in different ways.
For example: Here is an example of a redundant sentence. I think that we should really think about discontinuing project ABC because it hasn’t shown the benefits we were hoping for. The results just haven’t been that much help to us, and I think it’s becoming a waste of time. We should think about doing something instead. So, I believe that it is time to end project ABC.
13. Be specific: Avoid overusing pronouns and other vague words or phrases. These include words such as, “it”, “this”, “that”, “those”, “they”, “he”, “others”, “other areas of interest”, “none of the above”. If you use too many pronouns or vague words, your audience will have a difficult time understanding you.
Let’s look at an example
This sentence is vague: Targeting this for our new campaign will be really good for it. Our analysis shows that they will spend more money on them, but so far we haven’t targeted them.
This is better: Targeting area A for our new campaign will result in more sales for us. Our analysis shows that customers in this area spend more money on products ABC, but so far our team has not targeted this population.
14. If you don’t know the answer to a question, don’t be afraid to say you don’t know. We are all human, therefore, we are not perfect. Everyone makes mistakes and no one knows everything. What we can do, however, is to let your audience know that you can find the answer and get back to them.
Let's look at these examples: Example 1: I don’t have that information for you right now, but I will get back to you later today.
Example 2: That’s a great question! I can’t answer your question at this time, but I will find the answer for you and email you.
15. How will you know if you are communicating effectively? Measure how clear your conversations and presentations are by using the following guidelines:
Your audience responds warmly to you by smiling and maintaining their attention while you talk.
Your audience maintains good eye contact with you.
People in the audience follow your directions accurately.
Your audience appears relaxed. They are sitting back in their chairs, shoulders down, and hands relaxed.
People participate in discussions, ask questions, and make comments.
16. Here are some warning signs to let you know that things are not going well.
You notice people are tilting their heads to one side
Some people in the audience avoid making eye contact with you.
You see that some people are squinting or frowning.
Several people have their arms crossed.
People aren’t listening to you; they are doodling, texting, etc.
No one asks a question or makes a comment during question and answer time