We’ve all heard the statistics – more people are afraid of public speaking than just about anything else. I read once that glossophobia (the technical term for the fear of public speaking or speech anxiety) ranked higher even than fear of getting eaten by a shark. In reality, that particular statistic is likely because we don’t encounter sharks as often as opportunities to speak to a group. Even so, the fear of public speaking is very real for many (about three quarters of us). No matter how seasoned they may be in their career, there’s just something about getting in front of so many sets of eyes that throws quite a few professionals for a loop.
It doesn’t have to be that way for you though. There are ways to calm yourself, help you better prepare and make your way through a presentation with the toughest of crowds. No, I’m not suggesting “imagine everyone in their underwear.” Honestly that’s pretty creepy. I asked some well-respected speakers to provide advice on what helped them become more comfortable in public speaking, what they do to prepare and what techniques they use just before stepping onto a stage.
Gale Crosley, Crosley+Company “Pretend you are talking to one person in your living room. Look at each person in the eye as you are talking and shut out the rest of the room. This will put you ‘in the moment,’ which is what you need to break through to a high level of comfort.”
Sue Groszkiewicz, Accountable for Change “My mindset is it’s not about me – it’s all about the experience created for my audience, so get to know your audience and be authentic and relatable. Be well-rehearsed a week before the presentation and then let it percolate so it is natural when delivered. Additionally, keep a journal to record each interaction with your audience, whether the event was a workshop, panel, meeting or larger presentation and then list what went well and what could be done better and use that to help you next time.”
Rita Keller, Keller Advisors, LLC “When I first started speaking I was nervous, but not overly so. I attribute this to my topics, as I speak on topics I really understand. If you know your topic thoroughly, speaking becomes very easy and natural. That doesn’t mean I don’t research and expand my menu of presentation topics. It means it’s important to keep current on all aspects of your topic. If you don’t continually update and expand on ‘old’ topics (and there are many in the CPA profession because it changes so slowly!), your audience will think ‘I have heard this same thing for 20 years!’”
Jennifer Wilson, Convergence Coaching “Being a nervous speaker is normal and does not mean you are flawed or weak. Your internal conversation, or inner voice, is what causes your anxiety. Change your inner conversation and you can change the way you feel about speaking. Some of the issue is our desire to ‘look good’ or at least not ‘look bad.’ This is a selfish motivation, so keep in mind that this is not as important as the idea that you are going to share next that helps the audience. And don’t forget to engage the audience with questions that help deliver your content for you – so the audience is talking almost as much as you are, which keeps them on their toes and also helps you relax and settle into your material.”
Katie Tolin, CPA Growth Guides “When preparing for a presentation, I start with an outline, even before I put together my slides. This helps with organization and flow to ensure the content is spot-on. There is a format for public speaking I follow that includes an intro, conclusion, points, supporting info and transitions. I tend to talk fast, so in my speaker notes you’ll see words like PAUSE, SLOW or BREATHE. These sorts of notes in your outline are a great way to help you pace yourself. I encourage practicing in front of others to get their feedback, no matter how painful it may be to hear it. Try recording and watching yourself, too. It’s a great (and humbling) learning experience.”
Carolyn Carlson, StangerCarlson “There are a few rules I use when preparing to present and when I speak:
- Ask yourself ‘What’s the best way to present the subject to somebody who is not familiar with it?’
- Keep information on slides clear, brief and simple. Remember, you’re presenting your thoughts, not reading slides.
- Tune your style for the audience: a normal conversation voice for a one-on-one presentation; a slightly elevated voice for a group presentation; a projected voice for presenting to a large group.
- Begin all presentations with energy. A frequent beginner’s mistake is to start softly because of timidity. Focus on avoiding this mistake.
- Prepare your opening and concluding sentences carefully in advance, and practice them. Many an experienced speaker has neglected to think of his conclusion in advance.”
Now you know how the best-of-the-best make it happen. Do you have some advice that helps you prepare and make it through your speaking engagements? We’re all ears – leave us a comment and let us know what works for you.