Many people are more afraid of speaking in public than they are dying. Seriously! There have been surveys that have shown this weird fact. The thing is, of course, if it really came down to it and people really had to make the choice they would step up to the microphone every time. Jerry Seinfeld once commented on this and said that if it was true, it meant that people would rather be lying in the coffin at a funeral than giving the eulogy!
I used to do a lot of public speaking and was always a little nervous; which I think is a good thing. Often you will hear huge stars admit they have butterflies before taking the stage. It’s natural. In recent years, I have to admit my nervousness has got a little worse. So, recently I reviewed a public speaking course I created, and delivered, back in the day and came up with ten points to help me remember how to deal with this natural phenomenon.
1. It’s not that important – most of the audience wouldn’t be as brave as you. Put the engagement and the situation into perspective. It’s not life-threatening, it’s just a speech or a presentation. Don’t make it more than it is.
2. Don’t set your standards too high – just provide useful information. You don’t need to be a star – or the best speaker ever. You are there to provide valuable information; if you do that you will be well received.
3. Keep it simple. Audiences can’t take complicated, unless perhaps you are delivering a lecture to PhD students! Don’t over complicate things – keep to a few key points and deliver them well. That’s a whole lot better than cramming 50 points into 30-minutes and confusing everyone!
4. Know your stuff – prepare but not too much. One of the keys to making a confident presentation is to truly know what you are talking about and be passionate about it. If you are an expert on your topic, all you need do is create an order in which you will deliver your points and then talk to each one.
5. Remember the reason you are speaking is not to get people to like you or approve of you (no one gets 100% approval). Too often, speakers make it all about themselves instead of the information being delivered.
6. Give not get. Building on the previous point – if your focus is to give your audience value, rather than garner applause, you are more likely to be received well and be more relaxed in your delivery. The latter usually results in the speaker trying too hard.
7. Be yourself – communicate as if you were chatting to people one-on-one. Don’t try to be a public speaker. No matter the number of people in the audience, talk to a couple of people preferably sitting in different parts of the room. Choose people who are making eye contact and nodding – they are interested in what you are saying so deliver to them. Bringing it down to a personal level takes away the fear.
8. Share your own experiences with humour and humility. Making it personal, makes you human. People warm to people who open up and when they warm to you, your fear of speaking will disappear, you will become comfortable and start having fun with new friends.
9. Don’t worry about mistakes – laugh them off, their natural – you’re human! Let’s be honest, you are going to make mistakes – get used to it. Before you take the stage, accept that things are not going to be perfect – that’s life.
10. Remember your audience wants you to succeed. Unless you have a mortal enemy in the room, everyone in the audience wants you to do well. People want to get value for their time, and possibly money, so it is in their interest you do well. Give them a chance to give you a chance.
The big thing about fearing something is that it is often out of proportion to reality. Once you are a few minutes in to your presentation you will relax and heck you might even start enjoying it. And, that’s got to be better than lying in the coffin!