A recent survey has found that the fear of public speaking is a more pressing concern to most people than death.
The poll asked 2,000 people to rank out of 10 how scared they were by a list of phobias. Remarkably, the fear of public speaking came second, behind the top-ranking fear of losing a family member.
So what is it about public speaking that frightens the life out of people and how can they overcome those fears?
First of all, we need to acknowledge that if you feel this fear, it isn’t anything new or unique to you. We’ve all been there. Everyone knows how it can feel.
For most of us, the main fear factor is that we will be judged; that we don’t know our topic well enough; that we won’t step up to the plate and perform. We worry that we don’t know what will happen when we put ourselves in front of people.
No one is immune to these fears. When speaking to an audience of decision-makers, it’s natural to feel an adrenalin rush, however, if you want to grab your audience’s attention from the beginning, here are a number of tried and tested methods:
When writing your presentation, imagine your audience. Like you, they are probably time poor business leaders, tired of listening to time-consuming presentations that don’t offer much value. With this in mind, be ruthless at discarding content and have sharp key messages. Be aware of what your audience will already know and don’t be repetitive. The average attention span of an adult is 20 minutes, so it’s important to consider what your audience will really want to know from you and lead with this information. A concise and interesting presentation that brings a new perspective will ensure they are engaged from the beginning.
We’ve all heard of the phrase “death by PowerPoint” and an audience will lose interest quickly if you use too many presentation slides. Remember, they will have sat through hundreds of presentations so it’s important to grab their attention from an early stage. Avoid delivering a lengthy presentation by preparing a minimal amount of slides with one or two lines that act as prompts to structure your talk. Visual aids including videos, diagrams or pictures may help to illustrate your point, however this depends on your audience and what will engage them. Knowing the level of your audience will be a great indicator of the type of talk you should deliver and will make sure you pitch your content perfectly.
Practice, practice, practice
I can’t stress this enough. Nobody is born a great public speaker; so practicing your presentation is crucial. Rehearse out loud and practice your delivery in front of the mirror. How are you coming across? Your presentation is a performance; learn your script so you can speak from memory, project your voice and use hand gestures. If you feel your presentation skills might need a boost, it may be worthwhile to invest in training. Whatever you decide, dedicating enough time to preparation will ensure your presentation is as slick and engaging as it can be.
Like your audience, you’ve probably attended numerous presentations. Think about the best ones. A confident speaker, who talks slowly and clearly, letting each point flow seamlessly from one to the next, normally delivers an enjoyable presentation. Presenting isn’t easy, but nobody enjoys seeing a nervous presenter. It’s important to remember the hero and the coward always feel the same, so coming across, as a self-assured speaker will ensure you are perceived as a credible expert. Getting an adrenalin rush before you step out on stage is normal, but this will turn into a positive buzz once you start delivering a well-rehearsed and interesting presentation.
My final point is the most important one. Remember to be yourself and ensure your personality shines through. Ultimately, people buy people, and if the audience relates to you, then they are more likely to engage with your presentation. If you’re very different to them, try and find a common ground – perhaps make an attention grabbing statement at the beginning or create an analogy between your area of expertise and theirs. The truth is, humans beings do not acquire information easily by nature so thinking of ways to make the audience remember and respect you is crucial.
Most of all, try to enjoy it. If appropriate, ask for feedback from your listeners afterwards; ask what went well, and what you could improve. And be honest with yourself about your performance, it’s all part of the process of improving your public speaking style.