There’s no doubt about it: public speaking is an act of vulnerability. To lay ourselves bare and speak openly and honestly in front of others requires courage. In doing so, we expose our authentic, best self to the scrutiny and evaluation of an audience. And herein lies the source of one of life’s greatest fears: what if the audience doesn’t like what they see or hear, and judge us unfavourably as a result?
Alas, like it or not, as a business leader, public speaking in front of your colleagues, customers, prospects, peers, or industry network is a professional inevitability that can be as daunting for some as it is exhilarating for others.
Whether you love it or loathe it, here are my top tips for overcoming your fear of public speaking so you connect with your audience:
Prepare for the worst; aim for the best
Let’s say the audience doesn’t like what they see or hear. So what? What’s the worst that can happen? Visualise it. Then take the time to prepare for your worst case scenario. Put a contingency response in place and practice it. If the worst happens, at least you will know what to expect and won’t be caught off guard.
It’s not about you
Sorry folks, but it’s not about you – it’s always about your audience! So get out of your own way. Take the focus off yourself and turn your attention to the audience. Put yourself in their shoes. Do your research. Understand their challenges, questions, opportunities, hopes, fears, wants, and needs. Then use this knowledge to design a talk that speaks directly to them. They may not agree with everything you have to say, but they’ll respect you for respecting them.
Perfection doesn’t exist
Don’t try to be perfect – just try to be valuable. This goes hand in hand with the previous point, but I think it warrants its own mention. If you focus too much on writing the perfect script and delivering the perfect performance, you’ll lose focus on your audience. Given its subjective nature, there’s no such thing as the perfect speech or talk. So instead of chasing something that doesn’t exist, keep your focus firmly on being of value to your audience.
Pause. Breathe. Continue.
Sounds simple enough right? But in states of stress or excitement, we are more likely to charge through our talk without giving pause for effect…or breath! Pausing to breathe serves many purposes. It calms us as the speaker, helping to centre our thoughts and give power to our voice when we next speak. It also gives the audience chance to digest what we have just said. No one wants a three-course dinner rammed down their throat all at once. The same is true when we speak. Don’t cause yourself – or your audience – to choke on your words by forgetting to pause and breathe.
Remember, it’s all relative
Like all fears, the fear of public speaking reveals itself in different ways for different people. It can range from butterflies in the stomach, through to avoiding situations altogether and physical symptoms such as excessive perspiration or nausea that can be associated with social anxiety or ‘social phobia’. If this sounds familiar, Beyond Blue has some great resources on the signs, symptoms and treatments for social phobia that I encourage you to check out.
If you’d like to learn more about speaking with influence and impact, check out my Speak to Connect program.