Public Speaking: Nervous? Or Nailin’ It!

21 09 2012

“I think I might barf on my Jimmy Choo’s,” she said in despair.  “This sucks!”

That’s what I heard when I picked up the phone a few weeks ago while a friend of mine was suffering from a good old fashioned case of Glossophobia – the fear of public speaking.   She talked nervously into the phone from outside her event, just about to go on stage, and I was glad she called me.  I certainly did not want her to vomit on her expensive designer shoes!

Due to my extroverted or loud-mouthed nature, it is possible that people assume I am naturally able to talk to crowds of people without nervousness or fear – that is certainly not true.  I do get nervous, sometimes even feel a little sick to my stomach, and my forehead sweats like crazy.  So how do I overcome that fear?  And what advice did I give to my troubled, borderline-nauseated friend as she prepared to deliver her big presentation?

It was crunch time and I wasn’t able to give her complete advice, so I told her these three main points that can help anyone overcome their nervousness and fear before delivering a public speech:

  1. Remember you are there for a reason.  The fear of speaking to an audience comes from the feeling that you are going to embarrass yourself or disappoint that audience.  Always, always remember that they specifically asked you to speak for a direct purpose.  If you were not capable of providing value then you never would have been requested as a speaker – so have confidence in yourself.
  2. Engage the audience.  Just as the audience is the reason you may feel nervous, they are also your best friend in helping you overcome your fear.  All you need is one person to start nodding their head to make you feel strong in your presentation.  The best way to get that response is with direct eye contact.  Look at members of the audience straight in the eye when you talk.  If they don’t start showing some body language, then look at someone else until you feel a connection.  And don’t be afraid to involve the audience by asking questions, or let them ask you questions if it’s appropriate in the presentation.
  3. Slow down.  If you ever watch a really good speaker you will notice they are taking their sweet time, soaking it all in, relaxed, poised, confident.  If someone is rushing through a presentation then they sound like a nervous person, they feel like a nervous person, and might end up looking bad.  This is my personal affliction when I am speaking to a crowd.  I combat this by writing “Slow Down!” on my hand or on a piece of paper in front of me.

If you have more time to prepare for your speech, consider these tips:

  • Use images to build a connection.  I’m a PowerPoint fan, and often open with a picture that is engaging, whether it reminds the audience of themselves, or is something they can emotionally relate to – like kittens, grandparents, children, or bacon.  Images are powerful connectors for your audience and they add color and life to your message.
  • Keep it simple.  People will not retain everything you say, so don’t try to cover a wide range of topics.  You will be more valuable to your audience if you go deeper to fully examine two or three main points – and it will be easier for you to present.
  • Don’t worry about mistakes.  The audience doesn’t know what you intended to say, and therefore, will not notice if you forget a word or mess up a line – so don’t panic, just keep going.  Also consider speaking from bullet points instead of completely memorizing a string of words, so you have the freedom to roam around your subject.
  • You don’t need to be brilliant, just helpful for the audience.  I’ve seen it a thousand times, the “Let-me-show-you-how-smart-I-am” speech.  Guess what, we don’t care!  The audience is not there for you, they are there for themselves.  So consider the types of people listening, and make sure you provide content that is valuable to them specifically.
  • Say something different.  For the first few minutes of your speech, your audience is wondering if you will be any good – and they will lose interest if you are reporting old news.  If you want to win an audience quickly, say something they don’t expect.

Those are the basics.  I would also recommend watching speeches online to get a sense for how other people approach the craft.  Here is a wonderful example of someone doing it right.  This is my friend John Halcyon Styn, and he displays a perfect example of how to deliver a passionate, engaging speech.  He may have been nervous on the inside, but he planned, prepared, and definitely nailed it!

**SERIOUSLY – watch this video.  17 minutes of your life very well spent.

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6 responses

21 09 2012
Jennifer Knox Watson

I use these same principals (especially slow down) when leaving a sales prospect voicemail or prospecting on the phone.

21 09 2012
Brad White

Good point Jennifer, speaking publicly does not always mean in an auditorium with a large crowd.

21 09 2012
Michele Bell

As the aforementioned person who nearly hurled on her pony-hair Jimmy Choos, I can definitively say that you taking the time to talk me off the ledge prior to my presentation last month was an immeasurable help. Your advice was spot-on and totally shook me out of my neurosis. Thanks, Sweetie — I owe you one… And you saved my shoes. ; )

21 09 2012
Brad White

Happy to help. I’m sure you nailed it. And I know how fond you are of the Choo’s.

21 09 2012
Jared Karol

Great advice, Brad. I don’t speak publicly as much as I used to (or as much as I’d like to), but I perform music and read my writing often. Remembering that I’m there for a reason – even if it’s my own reason that the audience doesn’t know about – really helps me do well when I’m speaking or performing in front of people.

26 09 2012
Brad White

I’m not a musician but I assume that the nervousness is similar to public speaking. The same can be said of sales calls, teaching a class, etc.

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