Public speaking; conquering the fear

Speaking in public is one of the things most people fear almost more than being thrown, in their birthday suits, into pits of spiders, scorpions and wriggling snakes. This fear can be overcome or, better still, used to propel the public speaker to success.

One of the best ways to overcome much of the sheer terror of speaking in public is simply to interact with the audience before makinpublic-speakerg the speech. Once you have met some of your audience-to-be, it is likely you will be more comfortable on the dais. You can single out one or more of the people you have met and speak to him, her or them rather than trying to appeal to one big amorphous bunch of faces. The person(s) to whom you have been introduced, even if you can’t remember the name, is just as likely to nod and smile at appropriate places in your talk, reinforcing your comfort level.

Many speakers are driven by their fears to make hashes of their talks, thus amplifying fears for the next talks. The most flawful habits are:

Speeding up: trying to hit warp-speed to get the whole thing over as quickly as possible. This, of course, results in a speech that is difficult to understand, just as uncomfortable for the audience as for the speaker, and failing in any success to get the organization’s message across;

Slowing down: trying to make every point so carefully that any dolt would be able to understand your talk in spite of your discomfort in giving it. Result – tedium and turning off.

Group whispering: when faced with a large audience, whisper so hardly anyone beyond Row 1 can hear and much less understand you. Of course, the inevitable happens. People in Rows 2 to the back of the room begin talking to each other or, worse, into their cellphones. Well, why not?

Speaking in a monotone: speaking without varying the power and pace of your words and sentences results in monotony. The audience becomes bored quickly and misses the key points – or any points – of your speech. Top executives announcing new products have been known to use this form of speech-making. Come on, folks, pick it up; emphasize key words; slow down to highlight messages and speed up a bit when you are giving background. Hit the crucial words hard so no one will miss them.

In general, Know your topic well. Invite a Q & A if possible to test retention of your speech points and to interact more with your audience. And, critical to success, keep your energy level up throughout the whole speech. As the cliché goes, ‘It ain’t over…’ Learn how to speak in public and you will love the results so much, the fear will either go away or be well worth the experience.

-GR