Many people express fear of public speaking – which is quite a large category of fear when you think about everything that might be considered public speaking. But is it really “speaking” that they fear, or is it something else? What people are really afraid of may be something much more personal:
* Fear of being judged
* Fear of not being liked
* Fear of being boring and not having anything worthwhile to say
* Fear of being exposed as an imposter – as someone who isn’t really an expert
* Fear of losing one’s place during the talk
* Fear of making mistakes
* Discomfort with being the center of attention
Public speaking is perceived as a venue for scrutiny, and much of what people really fear is that their flaws will be revealed. Is your biggest fear on this list?
Now ask yourself these questions: How many of the fears on the list are based on reality for you – that is, you absolutely know that they will happen? How many of them have happened to you before? Which fears might you be able to decrease or lose entirely – with preparation, practice and letting go of rigid expectations of perfection?
Today’s pointers are not about you. They’re about your audience. Today’s pointers are also about reframing, or training your brain to perceive the situation of public speaking in a different way.
Pointer #1: People want you to succeed
The audience is not sitting there hoping you’ll fall on your face. The audience doesn’t care if you mess up. Even if you make a mistake, everyone can relate. We’ve all been there, and we’re all human.
It’s actually much easier to relate to a speaker who is human and imperfect than it is to relate to an overly polished, overly slick speaker. Put yourself in the audience’s shoes for a moment. You’ve been on the other side many times – did you ever want the speaker to fail? Of course not!
People want to connect with the speaker, have a relationship with the speaker, whether they are conscious of this or not. Your job, as the speaker, is to build that rapport with the audience. The more you connect on an emotional level, the better the audience relates to you.
Before the event, while you’re visualizing your successful presentation (you do visualize your successful presentation, don’t you?), say to yourself, “People want me to succeed.“
Pointer #2: People want to learn from you
They have come because they are expecting to learn something new or hear something interesting from you. They know you are the expert. They don’t know how nervous you are; they don’t know that you feel insecure. They expect you to know what you’re talking about. And guess what – you do!
Think of yourself as a teacher. You are there to convey information that your audience needs and wants. Nobody can deliver this particular information the way you can. Your content, style, and delivery are all unique and special to you. Take pride in your ability to pass along this valuable information to your audience.
Remember this phrase: “What’s in it for them?” If you put the needs of the audience above your own concerns about how you’re being perceived, you will find great satisfaction in meeting those needs and your fears will become secondary.
Before the event, while you’re visualizing your successful presentation, say to yourself, “I have valuable information to share and I know my stuff.“
Pointer #3: You can’t always tell what your audience is thinking
Have you ever looked out into the room where you’re speaking and noticed someone sending e-mails from his handheld device?
You’re rarely going to have the full attention of everyone in the room when you give a presentation. People have too many other things on their minds, and that’s just a reality that all speakers face.
You might be the most intelligent, engaging and humorous speaker they’ve ever heard, but someone in the room will not be paying attention. Are you going to focus on the one person who appears to be nodding off, or the 47 people who are smiling and enthralled?
Something else to keep in mind: not everyone expresses her/himself in the same way. We all know this rationally, yet we still feel uncomfortable and anxious when we spot someone who appears to be bored or distracted.
A participant may process your words better while doing something else, like reading e-mails, playing a game, or doodling. Some people hear better when they’re not distracted by visuals, so those people may not be making eye contact with you or looking at your materials. They may be paying attention to everything you say, but in a way that’s not familiar to you. You may even be surprised when one of these audience members comes to you at the end and tells you how much they enjoyed your presentation!
Now, if half of your audience appears to be nodding off or scrunching up their faces in confusion, there may be some basis for shifting gears a little. Do pay attention to your audience throughout your talk, and make an effort to read their body language so you know where you stand. There are plenty of good books and articles online about body language if you’d like to learn more.
Before the event, while you’re visualizing your successful presentation, say to yourself, “I am an interesting and engaging presenter.“
Practice reframing the way you perceive your audience, putting your attention on meeting their needs, and using positive affirmations before speaking engagements, and you will greatly reduce your public speaking anxiety.
Lisa Braithwaite works with individuals to uncover their challenges and build their strengths in presenting themselves confidently as speakers. Find your voice with public speaking coaching! Sign up for the Presentation Pointers newsletter and find out about having a free consultation at www.coachlisab.com.