To speak… Or not to speak… That “should not be” the question!

August 6, 2013 / By

Are your palms sweaty? Is there a blank spot in the back of your mind? Are the words “um” and “ugh” stumbling out of your mouth every other word? If these physical symptoms are manifesting, then most likely, you are experiencing a moment that all of us have encountered in our lifetimes… The anxiety induced by public speaking.

If you think you’re the only one who suffers from this fear, don’t fret, you are not alone. Fear is a normal reaction to being in front of groups. And if anybody tells you they’re not – well, they’re still stuck in the first phase of recovery (denial). As Mark Twain once said, “there are only two types of speakers in this world: those that are nervous and those that are liars.”

Fear is the most natural and shared feeling. Whether you’re an intern or a CMO at a Fortune 100 company, the anxiety that is generated from being in the spotlight is naturally experienced by ALL speakers. According to national surveys, the fear of public speaking ranks among Americans’ top dreads. That’s right—we seem more afraid of public speaking than we are of physical illness, heights, and even death itself. And if you’re like me (and almost everyone else on Earth for that matter), public speaking is not at the forefront of the things you voluntarily sign up for. But, if you have a career in the field of marketing/communications, let’s be honest…. You’ll be expected to, well, to be blunt, communicate.

To help get you over that initial hurdle of speech anxiety, here are a few quick tips that I’ve learned that will help you rid that dry mouth and deliver on those conference speeches or new business presentations:

Before the speech:

o Visualize success

Before even stepping up to the podium, visualize a successful outcome. Chances are you’ve run through your notes and know your material better than anyone – let the muscle memory of your knowledge take it from here and speak for itself.

o Rehearse and repeat

Practice doesn’t make perfect but it will certainly get you comfortable with your material to help you deliver on your key messages in a succinct and impressionable manner. Also, don’t be afraid to practice out loud (you’ll be surprised how the flow will meld together when you can hear the articulation) or reach out to friends/colleagues for an outsider’s perspective (they will never steer you wrong). Communities like Toastmasters International are also great networks to tap into for peer-based speech development.

o Be prepared, not perfect

You should never memorize an entire speech verbatim. Remember that perfection doesn’t exist with presentations and it will only hinder your natural ability to carry on a conversation with your audience.

During the speech:

o Be loud and be proud

An easy fix to building up your confidence and honing your share of voice in the room is to control the volume of your presentation. Bumping up the volume will help you exude more confidence to your audience. But also be sure to leverage the fluctuations in your pitch to iterate your key messaging points.

o Slow and steady wins the race

In most cases, when your heart rate is racing, so is your articulation of your message. Just remember to take large breaths throughout the entire course of your presentation and slow down! Use the power of the pause for emphasis and to allow your audience time to process your message.

o Communicate to connect

When speaking in front of groups, keep it conversational. Think of your presentation as a collaborative conversation and less like a public service announcement. Open up the forum for dialogue and truly engage with the audience (this will also incentivize them to listen to what you have to say knowing that you are vested in them).

o Your voice isn’t the only thing doing the talking

Physical cues are just as important as verbal cues. Make sure you leverage eye contact to include your audience and genuinely make that connection – checking to see if they’ve received your message, one thought at a time, and avoid peripheral audience scanning. Hands can also help underline the stresses of the words, give them life, and help to add-in variation of modulation and pitch.

o Just relax

Last but not least, put a smile on and relax – you’ve got this in the bag!

Becoming comfortable speaking publicly can have numerous benefits, whether they be professional or personal. Who knows, after some practice you may even come to enjoy your time in front of an audience!

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