By Essie Bester
A talented speaker is seen as an individual with self-confidence and the ability to think outside the box – features which can benefit each of us in a work situation.
After all, the majority of careers entails a measure of participation in public discussions. Think for example of meetings where you have to report back or presentations that you have to make to clients.
However, research indicates that millions of people worldwide to a lesser or greater extent experience symptoms such as nausea, sweaty palms, anxiety and/or feelings of panic before having to deliver an important presentation in a room full of people.
Experts reckon the fear of speaking in front of people is amazingly common. David Greenberg, a certified professional speaker as well as speech and presentation coach, suggests nine handy strategies to eliminate your anxiety before speaking to a group of people.
- Accept that nervousness is not a bad thing
To be nervous means that it is important to you to deliver a good presentation. Your nervousness leads to the release of adrenalin that can help you to think faster and speak fluently. It also provides the necessary enthusiasm that you need to convey your message well.
- Don’t try to be perfect
The fear of public speaking emanates from the fear of imperfection, Greenberg explains. Hy advises us to accept that we will never succeed in being perfect. “Strive towards being yourself instead of becoming a super orator. Your audience will appreciate it.”
- Know your subject
Greenberg believes you have to earn the right to speak on a specific subject. “Become an authority in your subject field and make sure you know more than most of the people in your audience. The more you know, the more self-confidence you will have.”
- Involve your audience
The audience’s involvement is the key to your success. Put questions to your audience or let them participate in an activity to keep their attention. Greenberg says the change in your presentation from monologue to dialogue decreases your nervousness and involves the audience.
- Breathe correctly
Place one hand above your breasts and the other above your midriff. Breathe normally. If your top hand moves more when you breathe, your breathing is too shallow. If it is the bottom hand, you are probably using your diaphragm – this is the correct way and the one that calms your nervous system. Greenberg’s advice is that you should breathe deeply a few times before and during your presentation. While breathing in, say to yourself, “I am”. When breathing out, say, “Relaxing”.
- Visualise your success
Close your eyes and see in your mind’s eye how you deliver your speech with confidence and enthusiasm. What do the room, the people and you look like? Your successful presentation is something that you have to imagine in detail. Allow your thoughts to help you to turn that image into a reality, Greenberg says.
- Practise aloud
This is the best way to lessen your anxiety. Practise your speech until you feel at ease. To practise by yourself is important, but Greenberg also encourages you to practise in front of a friend, colleague or coach who will give you honest and constructive feedback.
- Avoid caffein and alcohol
You don’t want to create the impression of being a nervous wreck in front of your audience. Drinks containing caffein can accelerate your heartbeat and cause you to tremble. By the same token you can increase your chances of forgetting words/paragraphs and/or not pronouncing them correctly if you try and allay your fears with alcohol.
- Make eye contact
Arrive early, while the seats are still empty, and practise by imagining that you are looking people in the eye. When you begin – select some friendly faces in different parts of the room. The audience will appreciate it and you will find that they are interested in your message. Add a smile and you will definitely get reaction.
More tips to keep in mind:
- Body posture is important.
- Use good stories and jokes with discretion.
- Keep a glass of water handy – a dry mouth can affect anyone.
- Make a concerted effort to speak slowly. People are inclined to speak faster when they are nervous.
- Although the size of the audience makes no difference, you can start by talking in front of smaller groups.
- Dress professionally. Choose an outfit in which you look and feel good.
What not to do
Don’t start talking immediately. Move to the stage, take a deep breath, find your place, wait a few seconds and start then, the experts advise. It shows the audience that you have self-confidence and are in control of the situation.
Don’t heed negativity. Ignore people who frown, fold their arms or shake their heads. Focus on those who are open and involved in a positive way.
Never read your speech. Talk with self-confidence without reading from notes.
Avoid to many statistics and quotations.
Avoid endless PowerPoint slides and bullets. If you want to use PowerPoint, make use of images that convey your message quickly.
Consider joining a group such as Toastmasters. They can help you to spruce up your public speaking skills even more by repetition and offering constructive criticism to fellow members.
If your fear is significant enough to cause problems at work or in your social surroundings, you could consult a therapist whom you trust and who can help you to process your fear. Experts reckon the success rate of treatment is extremely high.