September 15th, 2010

    I get emails all the time asking what to do with the green-eyed monster of fear when speaking in public. I decided it was time for a pep talk. We could all use one now and again. Consider this the locker room rally before the game.

    First and foremost, your audience, whoever they are, is NOT the enemy. I repeat, those people sitting out there watching you are NOT the enemy.  Believe it or not, they WANT you to give them great information, to inspire them and, yes, even make them laugh a little.  And though this may seem daunting, at least you can remind yourself they are on your team.

    Secondly, and this is where you give yourself a good talking to, you are there because you have something of value to impart, and the folks out there listening to you are invested in hearing it for a variety of reasons. This is a GOOD thing. With me so far?

    Thirdly, the more you are enthusiastic, prepared and concise about what you have to say, the more the audience LIKES hearing it. There is a perfect, symbiotic correlation. Pay attention. As a result of your being enthused, prepared and concise, you become more confident. This, in turn, makes the audience relax and enjoy you even more. How about that!

    Notice I haven’t mentioned the word “fear” until now. The “fear” you anticipate when you have to speak in public, that little diabolical voice in your head that causes panic, an inability to salivate, and your sweat glands to work overtime is… (Drum roll)…. mere ENERGY.  And the trick is to convert fear-based energy into a positive anticipatory energy, which in turn becomes a powerful energy of well being that is the direct result of your sharing great information with your audience. How do you actually make this conversion, you ask?

    Here’s a few suggestions:

    • Don’t feed your doubt, feed your imagination and your desire to share valuable information.
    • Before you speak, dedicate this speech to someone you really care about. Do it for them. And mean it.
    • Don’t open your mouth until you know exactly what you’re going to say and pace yourself as you go (slow down!!!) so that the content comes easily and “trippingly off the tongue”.
    • Structure your speech or interview with only 1or 2 major talking points and have the rest of your material support those points. An audience retains much less information than we always want to provide. Less is more. Keep that in mind.
    • Be sure to add some universal humor. We all love to laugh at life and you will have succeeded in winning over most of the crowd. That will definitely help to relax you. Find a smiling face out in the crowd and say the next sentence to them.  As you proceed, continue to make eye contact with other attentive faces and share a full thought with them. Trust me, it makes them feel included, which will make them trust you.
    • Fill your speech with concise, valuable content, interesting visuals (NOT power point with too many words in small fonts!!!), quotations, surprising statistics, analogies and one good short story that ties to your talking point. Make sure you have an emotional investment in your material. The audience will viscerally respond if the content of your talk matters to you. “Never lose your capacity for enthusiasm.” Gordon Dean said that.
    • Record yourself if you can and get feedback from colleagues or friends on your delivery techniques. Then record it again.
    • Have a unique beginning and a smashing close. Don’t dissipate the energy with a weak ending. Start by surprising us, or ask us a good question and you will suddenly see how we feel connected to you. Connection is the fear conversion factor.  Once you know the audience is with you, the fear just melts away.

    Oh, and don’t forget to breathe and drink some water.  It prevents cottonmouth.

    Wendy Scharfman is a professional speaker, communication coach and trainer. She is the founder of Coaching for Effective Communication, a business she created to help her clients become dynamic, confident speakers who can inspire action by delivering a message that matters. Wendy specializes in Leadership Training and Team Building, Public Speaking Competencies, Message Refinement and Media Training.

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