People fear public speaking more than death. It’s true –crazy, but true.
Editor’s note: This is part one of a two part public speaking series.
There are entire organizations (like Toastmaster’s) organized around helping people get over this fear, because we can see in our public life that sometimes, at least, eloquence can matter.
I can’t imagine Barack Obama could have won the presidency had he not been so powerful an orator. But then… never mind, I won’t go there.
Why should this matter to a small business owner?
Because it might make the difference between growing your business and being stuck in the mud. It might make the difference between simply being a member of your community and being a pillar of your community.
No matter what your business, unless you are a silent (and invisible) partner, you will interact on a regular basis with your customers, prospects, vendors, accountants, lawyers, salespeople, etc..
Being able to convince people or at least influence people can be a pretty effective tool whatever your trade. Most successful people are perfectly comfortable doing this one-on-one or in a small group.
Most people are comfortable saying grace or giving thanks at a large Thanksgiving table with family.
But get most people in front of a business group of 20 or more and they panic.
Here are nine common issues:
1. Their voice drops to a whisper or mumble
2. They sweat
3. They don’t make eye contact
4. They stare at their shoes
5. They turn their back on the audience and read the PowerPoint slides on the screen behind them
6. They are fixated on their notes
7. They grip the podium like it was a railing on the Titanic
8. They talk too fast
9. And they clear their throats repeatedly.
Full disclosure – I absolutely LOVE public speaking. I have a long background in theater in grammar school, high school, college and even grad school.
I took acting classes and improvisation classes.
I was decent, but it was fairly obvious to me that I did not have a ghost of a chance to make it as a professional actor, so I went into business, but those presentation skills have served me well and I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to speak in front of many professionals, consumers, students, and other groups as well.
Experiencing elements of panic
And even with all of that, with all of that experience and performing in front of literally thousands of people at a time, I have frequently experienced some elements of that panic – particularly talking too fast.
So don’t feel bad if you choked up when you had to give the best man’s speech at your brother’s wedding, or if you stumbled and mumbled when you were giving a committee report to the PTA. You’re human.
Solutions to this problem are often as scary as the problem itself. Some say you should imagine the audience is naked.
That could be scarier than anything, depending on the audience – or worse, totally distracting and having some desirable audience members in the front row could ruin you. Some say you should focus on specific people in your audience – that can be disconcerting to the individuals you are staring at, and others in the room can feel ignored.
Then there is simply repetition.
That’s what groups like Toastmasters are for – doing it over and over again in front of people who share your anxieties. I have seen this work for some people I know, but for others sharing anxieties can exacerbate them.
Let’s all get scared together and share a great big panic attack.
If you want to get ahead in a business organization (like your industry group), a social group (like the Rotary Club), something close to home (like the PTA) or something bigger (like political groups), being able to express yourself is important.
So how do you do this?
In part two of Overcoming the Dread of Public Speaking I’ll share 13 practical best practices for public speaking.