Beyond plain old nervous tension, there is a bounty of reasons why some people just cannot seem to get the hang of public speaking. Let us lift the veil and examine why even some executives in positions of high responsibility are hesitant, and talk about some strategies for dealing with these presentation worries.
As your presentation skills gain a sharper edge, you want to get to a place where these concerns melt away. As in medicine, I much prefer to treat the disease as opposed to the symptoms. Step into the examination room so we can diagnose your particular malady:
- Stage fright. This is often a catch-all phrase, but is actually a specific condition. As the curtain goes up, so does your pulse rate and your level of adrenaline. The body is harkening back to the “freeze, fight, or flight” mechanism vital to our ancestors. This manifestation does not mean you lack intelligence or emotional stability. There are many methods for addressing stage fright. Studies show that the single biggest repellant is our old friend practice. The more you speak, the better you become at harnessing this wayward energy.
- Shyness. This affects a lot of us, me included. Let me give you a personal insight. I am not Mr. Outgoing. In fact, if you look in the dictionary for “life of the party,” you will see me listed as an antonym. My personal experience is that hard work and conscious effort are the recipe for conquering shyness. No, it may never feel natural to me to eagerly plunge headlong into a crowd like a presidential candidate. But I have learned, over much time, to adjust my mind to seeing it not as a fearful event, but as an opportunity to grow both personally and professionally.
- Uncertainty about your topic. You need to be an expert who happens to speak—an expert in your subject matter. Read everything you can get your hands on. Keep up with the latest news in your field. Network with experts who can give you insights into the latest trends and research. Write articles, columns, op-eds, and books to demonstrate your expertise.
- Arrogance. This is the flip side of uncertainty. Do not come across as a know-it-all. There may well be someone in the crowd who knows more than you about certain areas of your speech. Leave the haughty attitude at home.
- Foolish pride. Foolish pride is the cousin of arrogance. No matter how long you have been speaking, there are always things to learn. It may be a mannerism you pick up from observing another presenter. Or it may be a piece of strategic advice you gain from a trusted advisor. Swallow your pride and acknowledge that you need to continually sharpen your communications edge.
- Being a bore. This fear of leading the audience into a state of ennui is the mirror image of arrogance. Your audience wants to benefit from what you have to say. Assuming you deliver a magnetic message with solid Audio and Video Tools, boredom will not be a cause for concern.
- Judgement day. Will the audience hate me? Will they rise up in revolt? Will they storm out because they disagree with me? The odds of your audience judging you this harshly are pretty slim (unless you understand in advance that you are walking into a hornet’s nest). Your listeners will generally be on your side unless you give them reason to turn against you.
- Ill-prepared. You have no excuse for not being equipped for an engagement.
- Lack of passion. You have to care about your subject matter. Any dearth of enthusiasm will be evident to your audience, resulting in a flat speech. Do not speak unless you have a personal or professional stake in the outcome.
- Wasting time. Some presenters, particularly early in their careers, get the idea that they are wasting the audience’s time. Not true. You have been invited to speak for a reason.
- Reluctance. We all have our individual likes and dislikes. Some people cannot wait to bound up those steps to the stage, smile to the crowd, and unleash their energy; others simply don’t take to it. A low level of enthusiasm doesn’t make you a weirdo. But it does mean you need to recognize your natural proclivities and make some extra effort to buck yourself up before an engagement. Ask a friend to offer some encouraging words. Read a passage that inspires you. Find a way to psych yourself up as an athlete would before the big game.
- Never been taught. None of us are born with the skill to speak in public. It is a matter of lifelong learning. If you have not taken advantage of any formal training, that is the first place to start.
- Bad advice about how to present. Beware! There is a lot of bad advice out there and plenty of hacks more than happy to sell it to you just to make a buck. Carefully check the credentials of anyone who tries to offer counsel to you. Are they experienced as a training consultant or did they speak to the local garden club once and suddenly turn into an “expert”?
- Physical problem. If you were born with a stutter, or poor eyesight, or a physical disability, I commend you for taking the plunge and speaking in public. If you want to work to overcome your challenge, consult with a professional such as a speech pathologist, ophthalmologist, or your personal physician.
- Poor facilities. You may arrive at your room to find the projector you ordered is nowhere in sight. Or there are no markers in the white board tray. Those problems you can deal with; find someone from the site’s facilities team right away and get him on the case. Arriving to your venue early helps to prepare you for the unforeseen.
What roadblocks have you faced? And how have you managed to overcome them?