Conquer Your Fear of Public Speaking

“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.”

Jerry Seinfeld

I’m reminded today of putting myself out there.  I gave a speech at my toastmasters meeting this morning.  There’s a certain vulnerability with speaking.  I’ve given 100’s of presentations throughout my career, but there’s still a nervous energy that comes along with it.  I find that I hesitate sometimes to step up and commit to speaking.  I’m not sure why this is, given the many presentations I’ve made.  It is what it is.

As Jerry Seinfeld says in this quote, many rate public speaking as their #1 fear, even over death.  Wow – that’s an amazing stat.

There are a couple of things you need to do in order to break free of this fear:

  1. Get your reps – You need to find an environment that’s conducive to proper practice.  Toastmasters is a great fit for someone that wants to improve their comfort level and hone their speaking skills.
  2. Jump right in – It’s not easy volunteering to speak, especially right away when there’s a group of people you don’t know very well.  Here’s the deal – the sooner you dive in and experience the initial bumps in the road, you will be that much closer to proficiency.
  3. Embrace discomfort – This is a tough one.  We have a fight or flight response that goes back to our ancestors.  This has stayed with humanity throughout time.  Public speaking is a perfect example of when we experience this.  You have to learn to embrace this flight feeling and fight your way through the anxiety.

Now, once you’ve broken through that fear, here are three steps you can implement to give a great speech:

  1. Practice – Don’t underestimate practice.  I literally scripted out my speech and probably revised it three or four times.  I, then, practiced it out loud at least five times.  As you give the actual presentation by yourself, you will come across certain points that need adjusting or simplifying.  I recommend standing up when you practice and get to a point where you don’t need your notes.  It’s okay to use notes when you speak, but if you can get at least one dry run in without notes, it will give you tremendous confidence when it’s show time.
  2. Keep it simple – When I first write a speech, I always seem to make it more complex than it needs to be.  As I practice and revise, I’m always thinking about simplifying the points I want to make.  This is important because the audience needs you to be to the point, otherwise you’ll lose them.
  3. Present explicit calls to action – Tell your audience what they’re going to take away from your speech during the intro, then give them actual action steps during the speech.  My talk today was on increasing productivity via managing your energy better.  With each of my three points (managing distractions, understanding your peak energy times and eating for energy), I had a call to action (i.e. for managing distractions I instructed the group to put everything aside and focus on one task for a set amount of time).

I talk a lot about resistance and overcoming it.  Presenting and giving speeches is one of the best examples where most of us experience this reluctance to persevere.  Think about it this way.  If most people fear public speaking more than death and you feel the same way, you’re in the same boat as they are.

So, jump right in and get your reps. I highly recommend toastmasters as a medium to do this.

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Thanks for reading!

All the best,

Jon

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