Studies show that public speaking is the number one human fear—more common than fear of death. In other words, most folks would rather be the person lying in the coffin than the one delivering the eulogy. Something is definitely wrong here!
The ability to successfully communicate in public is a key determinant in the success or failure of many careers—not just those in the speaking profession. Whether you find yourself addressing the board at corporate headquarters or simply answering your boss’s question at a weekly staff meeting, it’s time for you to conquer your fear.
Tips for Public Speaking Success
The following are the "little things that make a big difference" when speaking to a group of people. Incorporate these into your approach and you'll find that your task is much easier than you thought possible.
- Before you begin, consider practicing some relaxation exercises. Visualize yourself doing well.
- Network ahead of time. Introduce yourself to as many of the attendees as possible before your speech. Thank them for coming. Learn about who they are and what they do. If you already know your audience, take some time to chat with your colleagues. Familiarity with your listeners will help you to relax, which in turn improves your effectiveness as a speaker.
- Make a conscious effort to remember people’s names; it increases your confidence, humanizes your audience, and creates good will. It’s more personal to say to a group, "Joan, what do you think?" than, "The lady in the red dress with the big glasses has a question."
Helpul hint: When you engage in your pre-speaking networking, try to develop associations that help you remember people’s names. For instance, if you were to meet Ben Edwards, a gentleman who happens to have a blue ballpoint pen behind his ear, in your mind, repeat something catchy, like "Blue Pen Ben." Have fun with it!
- Include everyone. Now that you are familiar with your audience, communicate to them that they are all integral parts of the learning process. Make eye contact with everyone, and do so with “kindfidence,” a combination of confidence, courtesy, and respect.
- Smile. No matter how serious the subject matter of your presentation, a pleasant smile is an outstanding tool for disarming every audience. Keep this in mind from the time you enter the room to the time you leave. You will be amazed at the difference a smile makes.
- Tune in. Pay attention to the body language of every audience. Try to get a feel for what they want. How do they feel? Are they absorbing your presentation? Ask questions and refer questions to other audience members. Again, engage everyone, so that everyone feels significant.
- Use your creativity. Take some chances. Tell personal stories. Use your sense of humor. Make it fun for your most important audience member: You! If a joke bombs, so what? If you can't laugh at yourself, you'll leave the job to other people.
- Be yourself. Incorporating these skills does not necessitate changing who you are. There is no substitute for authenticity. If a certain approach feels too forced to you, then consider a different tactic that better fits your character. "What you see is what you get" is an attitude that everyone appreciates. Be the best "you" you can be!
- Talk the talk. Experience is the best teacher. Consider joining Toastmasters or another professional speaking organization. Seek out situations where you can gain experience speaking before groups—volunteer for a committee, speak at your church, participate in school board meetings, coach a team or teach a class. Familiarity is the fastest way to beat the demon of fear and ensure effective communication with any audience.