Have you ever read one of those fill-in-the-blank-phobia lists?
Who knew there was scriptophobia – fear of writing in public? (Did those two lines just prove I’m not affected?) Not surprising however, is the existence of glossophobia, or the fear of speaking in public. Speaking in front of people is a task less taken, a fear whose prevalence is widespread. It seems many people would rather write a whole encyclopedia in the middle of a shopping mall, than address an audience.
I’ve spoken in front of people most of my life. It’s a large part of what I do vocationally, both on radio and before a live audience. And the dirty little secret is… I get nervous every time.
So what are some things we can do to improve our speaking, and in doing so, prepare ourselves to better handle the inevitable nerves?
1. Prepare, prepare, prepare.
There’s no excuse for lack of preparation. “Winging it” is simply irresponsible, unprofessional, and insulting to your audience. The level of your audience’s buy-in will never surpass the level of preparation you’ve given. And here’s another dirty little secret… people know when you don’t know what you’re talking about. Smiles and courtesy hide a lot. Preparation is vital for your confidence as a speaker and the influence that confidence produces with your audience.
If you reach the end of your preparation and think, “I’ll never be able to fit all this in,” good job. Add a little bit more, and you’ll be ready.
And while some nervousness is probably inevitable (and good), it’s been my experience that nerves and preparation go in opposite directions. The more effectively I prepare, the less anxiety I feel when it’s go-time.
2. Practice, practice, practice.
By the time you present your material publicly, it should be the second or third time (at least) that you’ve talked through it, out loud. Spend additional time rehearsing out loud the most vital parts of the presentation, insuring that you’ve got the wording you need to communicate effectively and concisely.
If you get embarrassed practicing to an empty room, get over it. When the chairs have people sitting in them, you’ll be glad you did.
And practice many things… words, obviously, but also pauses, inflections, hand motions, etc. Don’t get robotic about things, but also don’t skimp on preparing and just “see what happens.” Practice repeatedly, be natural, and speak with assurance.
3. Transitions, transitions, transitions.
Presentation whiplash is never a good thing. Major elements of any talk, sermon, presentation, or speech need to include well-thought-out transitional phrasing. Logical, well-placed “segue speech” (words which naturally pivot the hearer’s attention from what’s been said to what’s next to be said) will help your audience avoid a jarring experience of seemingly unrelated, unconnected points.
Good “segue speech” elements include a verbal nod to what’s been said and an introduction to the main substance of what’s next (i.e. “…not only ‘a’, but ‘b’… .”) Think cohesion. Properly chosen and placed transitional words and phrases connect, gel, and fortify the presentation. Invest plenty of time in this part.
Any good waltz has three steps… and more than one verse. Verse 2 of The Public Speaking Waltz is coming… on Monday, January 27.