Perfecting Public Speaking

A reader writes:

Hello Anita,

I need your advice on something. Ever since I can remember I have been terrified of public speaking. Just the thought of it gets my stomach all stirred up. I have goals and aspirations to be an executive someday but know that I need to overcome my fears to get there. What can I do to make speaking in public less difficult?

Woman RunningDear, Stage Frightened,

Public speaking ranks very high up on the list of people’s biggest fears. According to Live Science’s article “What Really Scares People: Top 10 Phobias,” public speaking and social phobia ranked #4 behind scary spaces, spiders, and snakes.

Being in front of a crowd with all eyes on you can be intimidating and anxiety ridden. I myself have had my fair share of being stage shy. The thought of speaking to a group made me feel like running for my life. I have always been jealous of those lucky individuals that look carefree, unscathed, and darn-right comfortable when they are giving speeches and presentations. Not fair, right? Well, life is not fair and when life gives us lemons, what do we do? Make lemonade.

Before you start even thinking about presenting a topic in public, you have to figure out the key elements. My friend, Bonnie Cox at Power Training Institute, has a great amount of experience in public speaking and has offered her professional advice to us! How lucky are we? Here are Bonnie’s proven tips to become at ease with your presentation skills and make you a pro in no time at all.

  • Try to relax. Your audience is there to see you deliver a great presentation. They are not there to see you fail. Luckily for them, you won’t!
  • Know your topic cold. Practice it until you are comfortable.
  • Remember that everyone has stage fright. Let it work for you, not against you. It can be very energizing!
  • Focus on what your audience wants or needs to hear. It’s not about you.
  • Stay humble. If you are more focused on what you can give to your audience, you’ll be less focused on yourself.
  • Do not draw attention to your hiccups or your nerves. You are probably the only one who notices them.
  • Join Toastmaster or National Speakers Association to hone your skills and perfect your ability to connect with your audience.
  • Know the room that you will be presenting in.
  • Arrive to your presentation at least 15 minutes early.Microphones

And from Anita’s bag of tips and tricks, a final piece of advice to leave you with… As scary as it may sound, the only way you are going to be more comfortable with your public-speaking self to is practice, practice, and practice some more. The more times you present, the less anxious you will be and the better you will become. Baby steps are usually the best way to go about it. It may sound silly, but try practicing your speech out loud in front of the mirror. Once you have nailed it, enlist your friends and family to test your skills out on. It should be a
no-judgment environment, one you are completely comfortable with. Then move on to bigger stages and audiences. You will be a master in no time.

Toastmasters has come out with a great video called Five Basic Public Speaking Tips. Check it out here:

Readers, what do you do before and during a presentation that makes you the star of the show?

Have a question you would like to ask? Visit http://anitaclew.com/ask-anita/.

Being Body Language Conscious

Virtually nothing can be heard as loud and clear as body language. Even if you keep your lips sealed, unconsciously you are sending hundreds of messages by the way you present yourself, the way you hold your arms, your posture — the list goes on and on. During a job interview or at a networking event, you may have rehearsed your elevator speech and practiced your answers to those grueling questions, but if you are “saying” the wrong things with your body language, you can do significant damage to your professional image. By reading and putting these suggestions into practice, you can be sure you make, rather than break, a deal.

Confident WomanMy number 1 rule to starting out a good conversation or introduction is with a strong handshake. None of this wet noodle stuff. Your handshake should be firm but not inflict pain to the recipient.  Make sure it is long enough so they know you aren’t running for the door but short enough that a nervous sweat doesn’t develop. (Gross.)

When you are standing, keep your head held high, shoulders back, and back straight. This presents the image of confidence and ease in social situations. Slouching will give off the message of low self-confidence or laziness. The latter two attributes do not work well when looking for a job or instilling a positive first impression.

Same advice goes for when you are sitting. Most likely, you will be sitting during a job interview or client meeting, so focus on nailing these points first. When addressing your interviewer or other person in conversation, keep your shoulders square on the person. You want them to know they have your full attention and you are not intimidated by their questions or approach. Men, keep your legs crossed or in front of you. Women, avoid crossing your legs. Instead keep your knees together and put one ankle behind the other for support.

Nodding in acknowledgement is also encouraged but refrain from becoming a life-sized bobble-head doll. The goal is to project understanding and agreement, not to attempt self-inflicted whiplash. Also, try your best to not to touch your face, play with your hair, focus on your hands, or pick at your fingernails (clean them ahead of time) during the conversation either.

Remember to smile! A pleasant expression on your face will send off messages that you are interested and welcoming of the conversation and discussion. It will relax the person you are talking with as well. But be sure it is a natural smile. Plastering a fake smile on your face can read as if you are just trying to be as tolerant as possible.

Hands are also a straight signal to how a person is feeling at the time. Fidgeting can send signals of uneasiness or aggression. If you are one who talks with your hands, be subtle and only use at appropriate times. When in doubt, put your hands by your sides while standing and folded in your lap while sitting.

As the old saying goes, your eyes are a window to your soul. Maintaining eye contact seems to be the hardest thing for Eye Contactpeople to do during an interview. Some feel uncomfortable just from the thought of it. It is important to keep eye contact with the other person who is speaking. This is a surefire way to show you are confident, attentive, and genuinely interested in what they are saying. All are great qualities you look for in an employee or potential business contact.

If you put these tips into your daily routine, they will become second nature. Practice them with your friends and family to get the hang of it, and once you are ready to put them to the test, try them out in the real world… then come here and tell me how they worked for you!

Forbes posted a great video with Christine Jahnke, author of The Well-Spoken Woman, discussing how to make a lasting impression through body language.

And a quote to round out this week’s post, one which I love to think about when entering a room of strangers or going into a job interview, is one by Henry Ford that says: “Whether you think you can or think you can’t – you are right.”

Readers, what do you do to boost your confidence and portray the professional individual you are through body language? What have you noticed in what others do that have had a positive or negative effect on how you view them?

As always if you have a question for me, visit http://anitaclew.com/ask-anita/.

Best Wishes,
Anita

Disclaimer

Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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