Jerry Seinfeld said “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
Fear of public speaking trumps death! If you’re one of many who feel like this, how do you change it?
1. Start small. If you consider it, you’re engaged in public speaking all the time. You talk to friends, family, co-workers, the barrista, the mailman. So, what’s the difference? The spotlight is on you and you’re invariably in the standing position, perhaps bringing back memories of being in front of a class with the teacher waiting for you to fill everyone in on who started the Franco-Prussian war and all you can remember is what you had for breakfast. Next time you’re out with the girls/guys, try raising a glass of your drink of choice to someone and say something quick and pithy like “Susie, you’re a great (friend, mother, sister, co-worker…)” or “Here’s to (insert your favorite sports team) beating (your least favorite sports team.)” There, that was quick and the best part is you got to chug down a drink immediately after you said it.
2. Don’t forget to breathe. The boss expects you to present a short report on the latest project at a meeting or you’re a writer promoting your first book. You’re prepared, but the thought of speaking in front of everyone makes you want to run for the bathroom and hurl. Before you do your presentation, if you’re at work, close the door to your office (unless you want to be talked about) and open your jaw. Reach up and massage the area just below your ears in a circular motion to release the tension that’s there. Now, stand with your feet at shoulder width apart and take a deep breath in through your nose and down into the bottom of your belly, then release it through your mouth slowly. Do that 5-10 times. If you have time, even do some shoulder rolls, shake your hands and loosen up. This is a quick way to get some of the tension out of your body and will help you stay calm when you make your presentation.
3. Don’t memorize. Sometimes beginning speakers write everything down and then decide that if they memorize what they wrote, all will be fine. Don’t do this. I’ve witnessed numerous speakers, some even advanced, get to a certain point in their talk and here’s what happens: Silence. The speaker’s eyes are either cast into the back of their head searching for that next phrase or staring in horror at the audience, mouth working unconsciously to bring the words to their lips. Instead, I recommend bullet points. Take the key content of your speech and write bullet points that will jog your memory.
4. No one knows what you’re going to say. New speakers sometimes focus on “messing up” their speech. Maybe you’re going to forget something, or not say something the way you wanted to. Guess what? No one will know! Unless you handed out verbatim copies of what you were going to discuss, as long as you get the gist of things across, no one will realize anything went wrong. Except you. If you did botch something, I recommend you keep it to yourself. Accept people’s congratulations on a great speech and let it go.
5. Everyone wants you to succeed. When you stand up to give your speech and all eyes are on you, they’re not a pack of ravenous wolves waiting to eat you. It might feel that way, but most people are pretty nice and their expectations are fairly low. If you do stammer and have a few glitches, don’t worry. This will actually endear you a little to your audience. People like to root for the underdog and they’re probably happy it’s not them up there in the first place. Refer back to the quote at the beginning of this blog.