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Don’t let those public speaking fears crush you

November 11, 2013

The fear of public speaking has been in the headlines again recently.

A London tourist attraction – Ripley’s Believe It or Not! – was trying to drum up business by highlighting people’s fears of some of the scarier exhibits in its Piccadilly Circus galleries and carried out a survey of over 2000 people to find their biggest personal phobias. It seems to have backfired a little as the top two were Losing a Family Member and Public Speaking, neither easy to put into an exhibition.

These two were followed by Buried Alive and Death. This puts public speaking right up there with life’s biggest horrors – and it is markedly worse for women than men.

Why is this?

Having trained a lot of people to become better public speakers over the years I believe that it is fear if being judged that lies at the heart of it. The thought of dozens, maybe hundreds, of pairs of eyes looking at you, judging your every word and gesture unnerves many people. Often, the first advice given to people on public speaking courses is to think of the audience: most of them would rather do anything but.

Of course, the audience is all important but rarely something to be feared as much as most people imagine.

For most business presentations the audience wants the information the speaker has so they want them to succeed. That is a pretty encouraging start. If you add to that mix the thought that the overwhelming majority of people in the audience would rather be sat where they are than on the stage and the novice, fearful speaker should start to feel a little better about the challenge ahead of them.

Much the same applies to speeches at social events – often very intimidating because of the expectations that some people heap on them. Mostly, those people would run a mile rather than put themselves in the position of having to make a speech at, say, a wedding. Ignore those people and focus on the fact that most people just want something that is gently entertaining and not embarrassing: they want the speaker to succeed.

None of this, or all the brilliant, tried and tested techniques in the world, will take away the nerves. Anyone who says they can do that for you is, at best, misguided. But good training should go someway to harnessing the nervous energy that the prospect of performing live generates to help the speaker lift their performance to another level instead of feeling crushed by fear. It isn’t a case of getting rid of the butterflies but of getting the butterflies flying in formation.

Check out the training courses in presentation skills I have to offer if you need help to become a better, more confident speaker.

From → Presentations

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