Friday 10th August 2018

Taking the fear out of public speaking


It’s fair to say that to succeed in business you need to develop certain skills. The ability to speak confidently and clearly in public is one of these. Regardless of the job that you do, you probably undertake some form of public speaking, whether this be providing an update in a meeting, briefing your manager, speaking to customers or delivering a presentation in front of a large audience. If you are self-employed, your skills need to be even sharper; much business comes from producing video content for social media, and never underestimate how important it is to network and sell yourself effectively.

It’s fair to say that to succeed in business you need to develop certain skills. The ability to speak confidently and clearly in public is one of these. Regardless of the job that you do, you probably undertake some form of public speaking, whether this be providing an update in a meeting, briefing your manager, speaking to customers or delivering a presentation in front of a large audience. If you are self-employed, your skills need to be even sharper; much business comes from producing video content for social media, and never underestimate how important it is to network and sell yourself effectively.  

 

Rather unfortunately therefore, not many of us really truly relish the opportunity to speak in public. It is something that quite frankly fills most people with dread. In developing my public speaking course, I have spoken with a great number of people (mostly women) about exactly what they are concerned about. Common responses have included:

 

  • Feeling like they do not know the subject matter well enough and will be “caught out”
  • A general worry of “messing up”: physically shaking, stumbling over words, getting confused etc.
  • A fear that they will have a panic attack on stage and faint/run from the room
  • Being challenged by someone and not being able to competently respond

 

All of the concerns raised are understandable but sadly a significant number of them arise from self-doubt and low confidence; that inner voice that likes to repeatedly poke you in the chest and tell you that you are not good enough. Never has there been a truer expression than the one that says we are our own harshest critic.

 

So how can we stop our general fears and inner saboteur from getting in the way of us achieving our full potential? You could try and never speak in public again but unfortunately this is rather unrealistic and would mean that you could be depriving yourself of unknown opportunities. Almost all of my proudest work achievements have arisen from a talk I have given.

 

The answer is to learn from others about what has worked for them and to embrace the challenge head on. After 13 years of public speaking, often to large audiences, I have learnt a great many coping techniques and “crutches” that have helped me drown out my inner voice.

 

Some of these include:

 

  1. Aim only to be the best you

Think of a public speaker that you particularly admire. It is likely that they are naturally funny and charismatic, deliver a powerful message flawlessly and with passion, and exude confidence and presence.

 

There has to be an element of reality in what you’re are trying to achieve. Humour, for example, can be very hard to land properly and there is nothing more likely to put you off your stride than hearing an awkward silence if your joke falls flat.

 

Trying to be something you’re not is likely to only lead to disappointment, adding fuel to your inner critic who will use it as further evidence of your ineptitude.

 

Of course, we should challenge ourselves and aim to be our very best, but if that best is standing on stage and delivering a message calmly and clearly, without fireworks or funny one-liners, then that is absolutely ok!

 

  1. Know your audience

Before you even think about putting pen to paper to prepare any presentation, you need to think carefully about who your audience is and what they want to hear. A senior manager is likely to want different information to a front line officer. Getting the message wrong is a sure fire way to turn your audience off. Think carefully about what your audience’s priorities and motivations are.

 

Doing this will not only ensure your audience gets value from your input but being able to see and feel their interest and engagement whilst you are talking with give you a welcome injection of confidence.

 

  1. You can fake confidence

Frequently I receive feedback from women about my “confident” presentation style. It amazes me every time. The reality? I never sip water or carry notes when I’m speaking as you would see a slight shake in my hand and if you listen carefully enough you will detect a faint waiver in my voice throughout the first 20 seconds of any talk I give.

 

There are various techniques that can be used to make yourself appear confident: your stance, volume, pace etc. Whilst your message should be genuine, it’s ok to fake the confidence sometimes!

 

I’m really pleased to be facilitating a Women in Social Housing (WISH) workshop on this very subject and look forward to sharing lots more practical advice and support. The details are below and you even get to attend for free if it is your first event:

 

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/hear-me-roar-public-speaking-workshop-tickets-48118855793

 

Please also tweet me (@janinegreenasb) with any questions you want answering in the session using the hashtag “WISHMidlands”

By Janine Green, Board Member for WISH Midlands


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