Spooked to Present To A Crowd? Who Isn’t?

Hands up who gets presenting jitters? I do! And I know I’m not alone—in fact, fear of public speaking, a condition known as Glossophobia, impacts 74% of Americans, according to 2016 data from the National Institute of Mental Health. Having overcome this crippling problem first hand, I know every business professional remains capable of becoming a fearless, grounded speaker. This blog series provides helpful tips.

Commit to Change—Presenting Well Ups Your Game

Step one to overcoming your fears: Don’t feel complacent. Know that managers, investors, and others notice when we speak well. Among the business professionals I coach on presenting, around a third quickly report their managers inviting them to present more on behalf of their team. Several also receive promotions. Note too: More than half of Fortune 500 companies now host in-house Toastmasters groups to help coach teammates to communicate better. Leaders no longer consider communication a soft skill — communicating well leads to undeniable success. And even if we don’t like public speaking, as our careers progress, we’ll find more people handing us a microphone.

Find a Speaker Whose Style You Like and Emulate It

Overcoming public speaking jitters takes time, but you can accelerate your progress by finding a presenter whose style you love. Watch how the presenter moves, paces, speaks, and structures their presentation. Then, emulate that style (and approach) and make it your own.

I once suffered from terrible anxiety and considered abandoning my professor (and consulting) career because of it. I exhibited all the core issues: My chest pounded. My hands shook. My voice croaked.  As I pushed through my fears, I found comfort in watching BBC News Anchor Katty Kay—my shero—whose style, confidence, and energy I adore. Particularly, I watched this video where she makes terrific use of data up top, deliberate pausing, and breathless executive energy. When I present to a high-stakes client,  I circumnavigate a panic attack and pretend I’m Kay instead. Works every time.

Carve Out Opps to Speak

Joining a Toastmaster’s club provides excellent opportunities for practicing your craft. Additionally, established speakers all report repeated exposure to presenting breaks down those inevitable, well-shared fears. Therefore, find (and create) opportunities within your work and community to speak. Lida Citroen, author and reputation management consultant, speaks to large organizations on topics ranging from assimilating veterans in the work place and personal branding. (Her recent Ted Talk lives here.) Citroen’s early starts, she says, came from carving out small-player opportunities—churches, PTA meetings, her son’s baseball team and small business clubs. She tried out different exercises, approaches, and even experimenting with humor. The more proficient she became, the bigger the audience (and client). Often audience members invited her to speak at their company, too.

Control Verbal Filler

Anxiety manifests itself in multiple ways; however, verbal filler (and back tracking) remain some of the larger symptoms I see in those I coach. We all insert the occasional ‘um’ or ‘uh’ when we address an audience; too much becomes distracting and revealing of our fear. Consider these tips:

  • Yoga breathe through the urge. As you feel verbal filler surfacing, breathe through the tendency instead.
  • Apply a short (but detailed) structure to each point you wish to make (and keep to that cheat sheet). Often, we insert filler when we can’t remember what we want to say. Having a three-prong bulleted list for each concept helps us focus.
  • Rehearse (and know) your presentation before hand. The more we rehearse, the more we know the content, and the less we stall.
  • Use deliberate pausing. If we employ pausing as a tool, we give ourselves a moment to reflect and push through the urge.

Take Comfort That Others Share Your Fear

Not only do 74% of Americans shudder at speaking publicly, many famous people also suffer from chronic presenting fear. Sir Richard Branson outed himself as someone with this issue (thank you, Mr. Branson!) and wrote in a vulnerable way about his journey in this delightful article. Proficient actors and sportspeople including Julia Roberts, Bruce Willis, Tiger Woods, and Emily Blunt all have publicly shared childhood stuttering problems they feared would stall their careers. Actor Nicholas Brandon even served as honorary chairperson of the Stuttering Foundation of America’s Stuttering Awareness Week for three consecutive years. As America’s revered author Mark Twain once said, only two types of speakers exist: the nervous and the liars. We’re all in good company if we feel nerves; you will consistently find you can push through those fears, too.

Next week: What the Military can teach us about communicating efficiently and well. 







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