The mere thought of speaking publically evokes perspiration, shaky hands, and upset stomachs. Why are so many people afraid of public speaking? There is a variety of personal reasons, but some fears are universal. I want to tackle your perceptions head-on to get you more comfortable sharing your story, your hard work, and your expertise.
1. Perception: I’m afraid the audience will discover that I am not, in fact, an expert on the topic I’ve been asked to speak about.
Reality: Most likely, someone has asked you to speak about a particular subject, precisely because you are highly qualified to do so.
What to do about it: Prepare! Know your content well! This should go without saying, but “winging it” rarely ends well. More importantly, know the objective of the presentation. For instance, you could give a phenomenal speech about how your business increased revenue due to a new marketing effort, but if the goal was to educate your organization’s leadership about hiring a marketing consultant, the audience will be confused and disappointed. Know your objective and communicate that early on in your presentation.
What if I don’t know the answer to a question I am asked? Running through the presentation with a colleague offers the opportunity for someone to ask you questions in advance so you can anticipate what might come your way. Also, practice ways to say, “I don’t know” without actually saying it. Try, “That is a great question, I don’t have that information handy, but I can follow-up with you regarding those details.” Alternatively, “That hasn’t come up in discussion yet. Thank you for bringing it to our attention.” Always be honest, however, by saying “I don’t know” you could appear ill informed.
2. Perception: I’m just not good at public speaking.
Reality: Acknowledging deficits in this area is crucial, but don’t let negativity stop you from trying.
What to do about it: Learn the specifics of your challenges. Record your presentation and look for these things:
- Do you say things like, “um”, “so”, “like”, and “ya know” repeatedly?
- Are you too expressive with your hands and face, or perhaps you’re not animated enough?
- Do you talk too fast or too slow?
- Do you veer off on tangents instead of staying on topic, causing your presentation to run long?
- Are you staring at your notes or at the slide deck instead of looking out into the audience?
Watch the recording and identify challenges you may have. Now, make adjustments, record yourself again, and perhaps again, until you see improvements. Now, allow a trusted colleague to give you some feedback. Don’t ask someone who will just tell you you’re great – that isn’t helpful.Ask for critical feedback on both your presentation skills as well as content and accuracy.Be ready for the critique!It might hurt, BUT it’s the only way to get better! Then, PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE.
3. Perception: It makes me feel completely vulnerable.
Reality: You are completely vulnerable. You are also BRAVE.
What to do about it: There is no quick fix to getting comfortable with the discomfort of vulnerability. I have looked to Brene Brown, researcher and author, and I encourage you to do the same. Her work on vulnerability, empathy and shame is profound and impactful.
Aside from reading her books, what can you do about vulnerability? You can remind yourself that getting up in front of a group of people and speaking about anything, is BRAVE. No matter how easy or difficult you find it, the fact that you’re willing to be vulnerable is extremely BRAVE. If I remind myself that it takes courage to speak, it adds another brick to the foundation of my self-confidence. This positive self-talk may sound silly, but it goes a long way to improve your mindset about your capabilities.
Whether you are giving a formal slide deck presentation or giving a toast, public speaking requires courage. The world deserves to hear your story and learn from your expertise!
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
Rebecca Malotke-Meslin LOVES public speaking and gets to do it often as the Director of Admission and Financial Aid at The Avery Coonley School in Downers Grove, a Preschool – 8th grade independent day school for academically bright and gifted children. She is also the mother of two boys, and a Naperville resident.