The fear of public speaking is real. In fact, the National Institute of Mental Health reports that public speaking anxiety, or glossophobia, affects about 75% of the population. The fear of public speaking is the most common phobia ahead of death, spiders or heights.
With many industry conferences and meetings back in full swing, it’s time to sharpen our skills. Your ability to communicate effectively can make all the difference between leaving a lasting impression or putting an audience to sleep.
Regardless of your skill level—or comfort level—you can get better. Here’s how:
Play to your captive audience. In most cases, the audience wants you to succeed; they expect you are going to be good. All those blank faces in the crowd are on your side. To help relax, focus on one or two people in the crowd long enough so they think you’re speaking directly to them. This technique also makes people feel important and will help you with any stage fright you may have.
Smile! We like people who smile and feel connected to them. Start off by surveying the crowd, focusing on people you know. Before making a presentation, I always make it a point to get to know at least one or two people before going on stage. This will immediately make you feel better—trust me.
Always be ready. “He who fails to prepare, prepares to fail,” so the saying goes. Experienced presenters will tell you that the more you know your material, the more comfortable you will be when you start speaking. The idea is to have the material down pat so you can focus on other things, such as expressions, movement and making eye contact.
Know your audience. Nothing is worse than having to listen to a presentation that has no bearing or relevance to your industry or professional or personal interests. Why did the group come to see you and what do they expect from you? What do you want them to learn after listening to you?
Add a little “spice.” Trained instructors of the Dale Carnegie and Fred Pryor schools of professional speaking advise novice presenters to add a little “spice” throughout a presentation. By “spice” they mean a colorful anecdote, a humorous story, etc., to break up the monotony of a PowerPoint presentation.
Vary your pace. The audience is excited by your passion, the changes in voice inflection and your ability to give them time to digest what you’re saying. To that end, try pausing instead of using common “filler words” such as like or because. Even better, learn to “swallow” verbal pauses like “ums” and “uhhs.” During your presentation, move your hands, lean forward, change your gestures to emphasize certain points and to keep things interesting.
Practice. Practice. Practice. Rehearse your speech two or three times so you can get into a rhythm and flow. This way, when it’s show time, it will come across more naturally.
Whatever approach you take, make it a point to be interactive with the audience. Public speaking, at its core, is not only about educating/entertaining your audience but also making a connection.
Lisbeth Calandrino is the author of “Red Hot Customer Experience—Challenges Your Business will Face in the Next Normal.” She has been promoting retail strategies for the last 20 years. To have her speak at your business or to schedule a consultation, contact her at email@example.com.