When I was growing up in New York I had a severe stuttering problem that impacted my life tremendously. I was afraid to ask a girl out on a date because I wasn’t sure I could get the words out. On Fridays we would have to read aloud to the class from the Weekly Reader publication and it was always the scariest day of the week for me. Using the phone was frightening (this was before dial phones) because the operator would ask “Number please?” and I would freeze up. I finally overcame the fear of my stutter when I went to college and took a class in public speaking. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life, as it helped me realize that I had to overcome my fear and I was the only one who could do it.
Making presentations and speeches is critical to our success in business and in life because we are always working to convince people of our ideas, our values, our hopes and dreams. It is really important that we work through our fears and become comfortable speaking in front of groups. So, this week I’d like to talk a little bit about how you can work to overcome your fear of speaking in public.
- Begin with the end. Begin your planning by figuring out what you want the audience to come away with. What are the key “take away” messages? Try not to have more than three key points that you want people to leave remembering.
- Envision your success. The evening before your speech visualize how you want to come across to your audience. Think about a story or two you want to weave into your presentation. Radiate confidence and focus on how successful you will be in delivering your speech.
- Simple and straightforward is the key to a successful presentation. Don’t worry about impressing your audience with your eloquence. Express yourself in simple and easily understood language. Be sincere, honest and straightforward, and you will have the audience with you every step of the way.
- Practice makes perfect. I usually go into a room alone and practice the speech by reading it out loud to myself three times. I always mark the key words I want to emphasize or slow down on by drawing a red line under them.
- The beginning of the speech is important, as this is when you want to grab their attention and gain credibility. Talk about yourself and your background. Crack a joke or tell a story. Sometimes asking questions works well.
- The body is the substance of the talk. Don’t bring too many talking points into the body of the presentation. Emphasize two or three points – if you emphasize more than that you will lose the audience.
- Nail the ending because this is what people will remember. They might not remember the rest of the speech but they are likely to remember what you said last. Think about the “call to action” and what you want people to do to activate your messages when they leave.
- Engage with people before and after the presentation. I always try to arrive early when giving a speech so I can see the podium and the seating arrangement. I try to visit with people and learn a few of their issues and concerns before it is my time to speak. Stay 15-30 minutes after the speech and give people a chance to talk with you and exchange business cards. Personalizing the presentation before and after you speak goes a long way in giving you confidence and generating new contacts and business opportunities.
- Write notes on 3X5 cards. Even though some people can memorize their speeches I always find it easier to write down my thoughts on 3 X 5 cards. There have been times when I totally blanked in front of an audience and it was embarrassing to say the least. I now use some notes in case I forget my train of thought or where I am in the speech.
- Nervousness and excitement are normal emotions. I have been giving speeches for almost 40 years and every time I give a speech or conduct a workshop or training session I get nervous. For me the nerves keep me “on my toes” and prevent any sense of arrogance that I might have in front of the group. Allow the nervousness and excitement to act as motivating forces for you.