Tips and tricks for embracing public speaking

I remember attending at a Chamber breakfast a few years ago where Nigel Risner, motivational speaker and author of “The Impact Code,” presented as the guest speaker. He told the room of 100 that he was going to ask something of us that might make us uncomfortable, but he promised he wouldn’t embarrass or harm us. He said we’d actually be rewarded if we agreed to the task. Then, he asked for willing volunteers to raise their hands.

No one did.

Risner said he wasn’t shocked no one had volunteered. He went on to ask the audience why that outcome occurred. Everyone had the same answers: I was afraid. I was nervous. I was scared.

Risner said he was blown away because he had promised us that nothing bad would happen, yet everyone was still afraid. Isn’t that the root fear — that you will somehow experience ridicule or mess up your speech, and then people will jeer at you?

This little incident shows that fear of public speaking is a common anxiety. We’ve all heard the adage “Just picture the audience naked!” How that was ever supposed to relax people on stage, I’m not sure, but there are simple ways to get over your fear of public speaking.

Worst-case scenario: Start out by thinking about the worst possible thing that could happen. Could you mess up your speech? Freeze up? Have people laugh at you? Sure, all of those things could happen, but what’s the actual likelihood of them happening? And, even if you commit a faux pas on stage, it’s likely that you’ll be harder on yourself than anyone else will. Even the most experienced, high-profile speakers — such as presidents, talk-show hosts and comedians — slip up occasionally.

Use your comfort zone to your advantage: A great rule of thumb is to never speak on a topic that you need note cards for. Choose a topic that you’re comfortable speaking with your friends about or something that you enjoy teaching. Information and anecdotes should come naturally to you if you’re talking about a topic you’re well informed on and passionate about. If you absolutely can’t imagine speaking without notes, create a PowerPoint presentation containing pictures and small text notes to help jog your memory.

Practice aloud: Before your speech, make sure that you’ve practiced what you’re planning to say multiple times and out loud. It might feel strange at first, but speaking aloud when you’re alone will make it easier to speak aloud in front of a crowd.

Get into a pattern: Lastly, learn and utilize techniques that characterize a great speaker.

-Try walking around the stage instead of standing behind the podium; this will help keep the attention of your audience.

-If you’re using a PowerPoint presentation, limit it to about five slides, but make sure your slides aren’t text-heavy and that you don’t read directly from them.

-Tell personal stories or use anecdotes to help your audience connect with what you’re teaching.

-If you make mistakes, don’t apologize for them. Apologizing makes it awkward for everyone. Just keep going!

-Practice makes progress: The more speeches you give, the more comfortable you’ll become.

Speaking in public is a great way to market your business and establish yourself as an expert in your field. Visualize yourself giving a successful speech, take a deep breath and relax! Appreciate the opportunity to share your experiences and expertise with others, and one day you might even discover that you enjoy giving speeches.

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