|Written by Suzannah Baum|
|Sunday, 21 June 2009 22:21|
| Have you ever avoided a career or business opportunity because it required you to speak publicly? Did you ever have a great idea you wanted to share with a group, but suppressed it because you were afraid to speak up in front of other people? Most successful business professionals and entrepreneurs agree that good public speaking is among the core skill-sets needed to propel a business forward. A well delivered presentation can help you gain new customers, impress your employers or clients, secure new employment opportunities, and look like a leader.
Here are seven powerful steps to help you overcome your fear of public speaking and achieve a new level of success in your career, your business, and your life:
1. Prepare Thoroughly…Then Prepare Some More!
There are two things that you absolutely must do when preparing for your presentation. First, you must understand your audience and what they expect. Who are they, why are they there, what are they expecting to hear, how much do they already know about the topic? Plan the content of your speech based on what you know about your audience. And make sure to tailor the presentation to the knowledge level of your audience. For example, if you are speaking to a group of engineers, your language and presentation will be different than if you were speaking to a group of public relations executives.
Second, once you have the topic that you will be speaking about, research it extensively. You must become an expert on the topic.Identify the main point(s) you want to make, and then organize your presentation in a logical, clear and concise manner. Use stories and examples to back up any theories. Make your speech informative, interesting and valuable to your audience.
2. Practice – The Key to Speaker Greatness
Top athletes do not get to the Olympics by swimming one lap, nor do speakers excel by “winging it.” There is no excuse for not rehearsing your presentation. The very act of rehearsing your speech gives you the opportunity to hear what you’re saying out loud, allowing you to refine the language, enhance your stories or examples, go over transitions and key points in your presentation, and get a better sense of what content works and what doesn’t. Stand up, move around, and give the speech as if you were standing before your audience. Run through your presentation as many times as required so that you are completely comfortable with the material. You should know the presentation so well that you could do it without PowerPoint or notes.
If you are brave enough to rehearse in front of others – and this is certainly a good idea – ask them to give you very specific, honest feedback on your speaking style. Is the content clear, concise and organized? Is your opening engaging? Is your conclusion memorable? Is your delivery smooth? How you think you present and what the audience actually sees are often two very different things. Getting honest feedback and videotaping your speech and reviewing it critically are the two best ways to see yourself the way the audience sees you.
3. The Early Bird Gets the…Appreciation?
A speaker should be ready and waiting for his or her audience – never the other way around. When you arrive at your speaking venue early, you’ll have a chance to set up all your equipment, get technical help if required, and get a feel for the area in which you’ll be speaking. You’ll also be able to clear out any obstacles that may distract your audience and obstruct your space, like tables, chairs, extension cords or anything else that you might trip on. Once this is done, you can then take the extra time to review your presentation, or better yet, greet members of your audience as they arrive. Once you meet them, they’re not strangers anymore. And it’s always easier to present to a room full of friends than a room full of strangers.
4. The Best Plan Is a Backup Plan
Murphy’s Law states that “whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.” And Murphy loves to sabotage unprepared speakers. Make a list of all the things that can go wrong, and make a backup plan in case any of them actually happen. You’ll want to make sure that you arrive early; bring an extra copy of your presentation on a memory key; bring an extra battery for your laptop and your wireless presenter; be ready to give your presentation without your PowerPoint slides in case the projector melts down five minutes before your presentation; make sure you’ve got some water nearby in case your mouth gets dry; etc. A backup plan is your best defense.
5. Don’t Forget to Breathe
Sometimes, speakers get so nervous that they lose their breath, to the point where they sound like they just ran a marathon. If you find yourself out of breath, simply take a moment to compose yourself. Pause for one extra second, take a small sip of water, and continue your speech. Do not apologize for it or call attention to it.
6. Look Confident, Feel Confident
Create a powerful and lasting first impression by dressing in your most professional attire. If you make an effort to look professional, you’ll feel more confident and in all likelihood, the audience will perceive you as an expert. And very importantly, refrain from frowning, or looking worried or overly nervous before you speak. Showing anxiety on your face serves no purpose other than to show your audience that you’re not confident, and that in turn makes them less confident that you know what you’re talking about. And never, ever tell your audience that you are nervous – it adds no value to your speech, and takes away from credibility as an expert who speaks regularly.
7. You May Always Be Nervous – and That’s OK!
Many people believe that they’ll never be effective public speakers until they can overcome their nerves and be truly confident. This is a myth! Ease up on your expectations and give yourself permission to be nervous. Even professional speakers get nervous before they perform before an audience. However, the difference between professional speakers and those who let their fears get the better of them is that the former know the right steps to manage their nerves – and they know that whatever happens, they’ll get through it. Use the adrenaline of your nervous energy to add enthusiasm to your speech.
As the famous mid-twentieth century comedian George Jessel once said: The human brain starts working the moment you are born and never stops until you stand up to speak in public. Public speaking can be intimidating, terrifying, and complex – but it doesn’t have to be. Apply these seven principles to manage your fear of public speaking and you’ll be on your way to giving career-building, reputation-enhancing presentations every time you speak.
About the Author
Suzannah Baum is a Presentation Skills Trainer and Coach who helps business leaders, entrepreneurs and academics master the skills to create a career-building, reputation-enhancing presentation – and then deliver it with confidence, clarity and control. For more information on her training, seminars and coaching, visit www.idealcommunications.ca. While you’re there, sign up for the monthly newsletter The Ideal Communicator and you’ll receive a free copy of the special report “10 Tips to Bulletproof Your Presentations.” (Copyright 2009, Ideal Communications).
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