‘The art of communication is the language of leadership’ James Humes
The fear of public speaking is amongst 10 of the top fears suffered in the UK. 20% of Britons are said to have this fear, its liken it to the fear of death. The pressure of failure can be so immense the body starts to show physical symptoms; shaky voice, sweaty hands, heart rate increases and you feel like a deer in the headlights.
And I should know! I had a crippling fear of it for most of my life.
For me a fear of public speaking goes back to primary school when I was around 4/5 years old. I remember very distinctively the teacher would ask me something in front of the whole class. Sitting there in my woolly skirt (LOL!) crossed legged in a group with all the other kids staring at me …….I would REFUSED to answer, point blank refused. So scared of saying the wrong thing I said nothing at all.
This has manifested itself to older life – through high school, university and finally in the working business world I knew it was time to defeat my own worst enemy. Who cares if you say the wrong thing, seriously! Many years wasted. I really had to push myself and use a lot of mental power to get over this fear.
In my early 20’s I started working in marketing. It is all about communication, inspiring and persuading people through words and your creative ideas. My biggest fear at the time, I hunted around for ages for a solution and finally starting going to public speaking classes. However, it was only until I joined Toastmasters and found a mentor that progress sped up.
To cut the long story short (lots of practise + feedback essentially!) these days if the boss asked me a question in front of everyone, I can reply back thank god. If I need to do a presentation for 15 minutes in front of 25 people I can deliver it, sure nerves are there but when I ask for feedback usually they say they didn’t pick up on nerves. I always wonder if the people in front of me know how many years of practise that have gone behind it. Get used to presenting, especially if you want to advance in your career!
5 Tips to overcome fear
Of course there are all of some small (and be it annoying!) minority of the world who were blessed with amazing public speaking skills. For the majority of us we need to work at presenting our true engaging, lively and charismatic personalities shine through on stage.
This area is a real passion project for me, but let me start with some pointers that can help anyone, even if you are a pro already:
- Join toastmasters; did you guess this was coming? Yes, join toastmasters for continuous feedback, improvement and pointers. It is great to network with like minded people as well I have met some very inspiring through toastmasters, learning is so much easier when you are doing it with other people.
- Feedback; always ask for feedback, if you have done a talk, speech or warm up. The audience will be able to pick up on things you haven’t even thought of. Don’t be sacred, ask them to say one thing they liked and 1 area of improvement on your style to let them open up and be honest.
- Know your audience; when I have a meeting with a potential partner or the sale guys the speech and key areas of interest are total different.
- Preparation: this is an obvious one right! Ensuring you have given yourself enough time, practised delivery and know your points, overall make it less stressful for yourself.
- Stop judging: stop judging yourself! We are our own worst enemies sometimes, give yourself a break. Who cares if someone fluffs their lines, takes a minute to think through their next point, we wouldn’t think less of them so why do we judge ourselves so harshly?
Lastly, next time you watch very talent speaker speak, analyse what makes them so engaging. Appreciate the likely years of hard work that has usually gone into developing that style. It is like playing an instrument, the more the practise the truly better you get – so get practising!