Wednesday, October 10

Overcoming the Fear

In a poll researching the average American's fears, the fear of speaking in public was found to be the most common, ahead of the fear of death. It seems many would prefer dying than having to speak before an audience! This is unfortunate since the skill set required to be a good speaker can prove beneficial in many other areas such as job hunting, public relations, sales and life in general. I have accumulated over a decade of experience in public speech in a panoply of settings such as 1 on 1 cold calls, conferences of 50 to 1500 people, as a teacher, presenter and radio host and I have found public speech to be one of the most rewarding and enriching experiences in my life.

Designers often are faced with situations where they must present a concept or design proposal before a committee to "sell" the product so to speak. Designers are trained to creatively apply design principles and overcome communication challenges and though some of the designer's skills are interchangeable with those of the public speaker, many are not.

What are some of the things one can do to improve public speaking abilities? How can this knowledge be applied? To answer these questions and others and hopefully help those in need of insight on the art of oratorial communication, this blog will now regularly feature articles under the heading "public speaking 101". The articles will draw from various sources such as the large mass of materials I've read on the subject, advice bestowed on me by masters of this art and my own experience.

Our first of such features will deal with what is likely the most pressing matter. It bears the title:

Feel The Fear,
then lean into it

You hear your name called. Your already quick heartbeat quickens still. Various body parts shake and shrivel. You can not control your posture or your breathing. You feel a cold sweat and your field of vision reduces. Your mouth is parched. You know you are not about to face a firing squad but it sure feels like it!

Once you've managed to drag your semi-paralyzed body before the audience the true torture begins. Stuttering, sweating, memory loss and despite your best efforts your mouth refuses to obey your jittery brain.

What are some steps we can take to help us begin overcoming this paralyzing fear of public speech and become successful orators?

Concentrate on the Message

“You don’t have to be brilliant or perfect to succeed,” says Dr. Morton C. Orman, an expert on stress and a professional public speaker. “The essence of public speaking is this: give your audience something of value.” In other words, concentrate on the message, not on yourself or your own anxieties. It's important to remind yourself that in most cases your audience is there to hear what you have to say not judge the way you say it. This will help allay a common reason for public speech anxiety, namely the fear of embarrassment or of being judged by your audience. Lenny Laskowski, a professional speaker and trainer, reminds us that audiences tend to approach each presentation with a positive outlook. “They want you to succeed, not fail,” Laskowski says. So whenever possible, before having to speak before an audience do something that helps you get into a positive mindset. Go for a walk, play some music, read. Whatever helps you feel comfortable. Doing this will have a direct and positive effect on your presentation.

Realize that your audience is a collective. When you approach the task of speaking in public remember that it is simply a conversation between 2 individuals, you and the audience. It's just that you will be doing most of the talking. Viewing it from this angle will greatly reduce your stress.

Preparation Makes Perfect

Another very effective weapon against nervousness prior to speaking in front of an audience is acquired a long time before the actual event. That weapon is preparation. The more familiar your are with what you have to say the less worried you'll be about not saying it correctly. This means practicing your presentation several times in front of a mirror, a camera or a friend. When practicing try to set yourself up in such way that will mimic the real event. Will you be standing up? Then practice standing up. Will you be on a stage? practice on top of the stairs.

Being prepared also means avoiding overloaded presentations. Keep it simple. Reduce everything down to it's most essential structure. For instance, a 10 minute presentation should have a maximum of 3-4 points. You may think that isn't much but that gives you 2 minutes to expound on each point with 1 minute for the intro and 1 minute for the conclusion. Time flies! It is very important to chop off all the peripherals and keep them as back up. If time permits you can draw on that supplemental information. Or if your audience has questions you'll have extra info to give them. The effort required to distill your information will help clarify things in your own mind and take some of the weight off of your shoulders.

Additionally, when you believe that what you have to say is beneficial to your audience you are much better equipped to ignore your nervousness and focus on delivering your important message. I have seen many people make the mistake of writing everything down word for word and just reading it off. It makes for a dry presentation which in turn lowers the audience comfort level and increases the nervousness of the speaker. It is far better to write down key points and practice speaking in a conversational tone.

Start Out on the Right Foot

Many great speakers will include a comment in their introduction that will get a chuckle a laugh or a smile from the audience. Just a little line to set everyone at ease. Imagine that this article was me speaking in public. In my introduction I spoke of the feelings most of us feel prior to giving a speech. Did it get a smile from you? No doubt it did. Did it make you want to read more? More than likely it did. Do not underestimate the power of of laughter.

Conclusion: Lean Into It

If you apply the advice in the article I guarantee you will experience a steadily decreasing fear of public speaking. However, being a little nervous isn't a sign of weakness. In fact, a certain degree of nervousness is good for you and your presentation. Why is that? Because a measure of nervousness reflects modesty, which will help keep you from becoming overconfident. Many athletes, musicians, and actors feel that a little nervous energy actually makes them perform better, and the same can be true of public speakers. So concentrate on the message by becoming very familiar with it, prepare yourself extensively and practice your presentation several times and finally, keep it light and have a sense of humor about the whole thing. You will still feel the fear but you will be equipped to lean into it with confidence.


Sheri said...

Great article. I am going to share it on my blog. Kind of picks up on my Feisty Females Fearless Marketing them.

I always tell them to lean into it! Nice to have found you.


Juggling Jason said...

Glad to find you also. I'm a fan of mixed media. My wife is a professional artist and I'm always interested in things art and business of art.