ALC English Journal Article Oct 2013

Public Speaking

QUESTION: I’ve been asked to give a one-hour speech. I’m not good at speaking in front of people, and I feel like I’m going to die! Can you help me survive?

ANSWER: Congratulations, you are perfectly normal! Many people fear public speaking more than death. The primary cause is because they focus on themselves instead of their audience. Here is my “6P” approach to dramatically reducing your fear of speaking in front of people.

Prepare! Preparation is absolutely essential to reducing your anxiety. The best speakers in the world spend roughly one hour preparing for every minute of their actual speech!

Start with “Why?”, “Who?” and “What?”.

  • WHY? Be clear about the purpose of your speech.
  • WHO? Know your audience. Learn as much as you can about them. If possible, interview a few intended audience members about your topic. This will also assure you have some friendly faces in the crowd when you give your talk.
  • WHAT? Clearly define “success” for your speech. Although you might be delighted with simply surviving the experience, imagine what would cause your audience to stand in line at the end of your talk to thank you.

Tell a Story. People remember stories. Just sharing facts is boring, and people will forget over half of what you say almost immediately. Include relevant stories and examples that your audience will find difficult to forget.

Practice! Say your speech OUT LOUD at least three times before your event. Do so in front of a mirror, video camera, or a trusted friend, to get feedback on your body language, facial expression, and tone of voice. Don’t worry if your initial results are terrible. When I first watched a video of myself speaking I was absolutely horrified! Like jazz musicians who practice extensively in order to be able to improvise expertly, gifted presenters spend many hours preparing so they can appear natural and “spontaneous” in their talks.

Present with Purpose and Passion! High-energy speakers are generally more effective. Just prior to your speech find a private place to warm up by cheering “YES! YES! YES!” while jumping up and down and waving your arms in the air as if you’ve just won the World Cup! This will raise your energy and get oxygen flowing to your brain. Continue pausing to breathe deeply during your talk to further reduce your anxiety.

During your speech, focus on your audience, not yourself. Deliver your message with clarity, confidence, and commitment! Don’t feel confident? Fake it! Pretending to be confident works almost as well, and non-verbal communication has a far greater impact than our words. Pause, make eye contact, speak loudly, use gestures, and smile, of course!

Our feelings are stronger than our memories. People quickly forget what you say, but they can easily remember how you made them feel. Deliver both information and inspiration!

Party Afterward! Although your speech may not go perfectly, save your self-criticism for another day. No matter what your opinion of your performance, congratulate yourself for having finished it without running out of the room screaming and hiding under your desk. You deserve to relax and celebrate!

Finally, think about the chances that you will actually die while giving a speech. OK, it could happen, but more than 99.9999% of the time the speaker will survive. And using this “Prepare, Practice, Present with Purpose and Passion, then Party!” approach you actually might start to enjoy the whole experience.

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