Overcoming the fear of public speaking

FearThere was a thorough overview of ways to overcome a fear of public speaking in Tuesday’s FT.

They advise that practice makes all the difference. I agree. I like to point out that people who only play tennis twice a year are probably not very good at it. Hitting the ball, or hitting the podium, every week makes all the difference. That’s why Toastmaster’s International is a great sandbox for all speakers to practice in. There’s bound to be a club near you.

The fear of public speaking is so pervasive that the bar for acceptability is really quite low. Most business speeches are dull, “In fact, many of what are thought of as awful speeches are decent speakers saying the wrong thing.” The article points out that public speaking breaks into two categories: what you say, and how you say it. They claim, quite rightly in this speechwriters’ opinion, that the former is considerably more important.

A dozen solid tips on developing and delivering a speech include:

  • Know the audience and anticipate their questions in the content you deliver
  • Write for the spoken word not the written
  • Use personal stories
  • People only take away three things from a speech (the rule of three)
  • Prepare more material than you need to be ready for follow-up questions. (I’d point out that most speakers don’t have a problem finding material, it’s editing it down that causes many people headaches.)
  • Don’t read a script — the article points to the harm Amazon founder Jeff Bezos did to his delivery when he read from notes in this Princeton commencement address
  • Avoid a TelePrompTer
  • Avoid filler words (a few week’s with a ToasterMaster “Ah Counter” will cure most verbal ticks)
  • Signpost your speech to the audience – clearly stating where your theme is going
  • Vary your pitch and emphasis (which Toastmasters calls “Vocal Variety”)
  • Limit PowerPoint
  • Deliver a strong finish.

Among the most effective ways of dealing with stage fright that I’ve come across as the techniques of voice control outlined by Kate Peters in her book Can You Hear Me Now?

It’s also worth working with a coach who has theater or improv experience to learn simple yet effective ways to use your body as tool to overcome the symptoms of stage fright.

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For an inexpensive entry to speaking, try http://Toastmasters.org . There are local clubs worldwide.

Great suggestion to hire an improv coach. It’s one of the most important things a speaker can do to become more natural on stage and learn to roll with the punches, no matter what happens.

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