It was 5 years ago, I was asked to do a vote of thanks for a public speaker after a Trafalgar Day lunch at a Club I was a member of. All I needed to do was to stand up in front of 60 people, briefly sum up what the chap had said and say how interesting it was. My heart started beating very quickly, I stood up and started speaking. My hands were very sweaty and my voice started quivering so badly I couldn’t get my words out. I cut my speech short and sat down embarrassed. It is the body’s “Fight or Flight” reaction to a threatening situation, for some reason my brain had decided Public Speaking was a threatening situation and wouldn’t allow me to do it!
I positively shyed away from any public speaking for some time but then decided to do something about it. I decided to write this post after reading some tweets from people who are presenting at SAP Inside Track Manchester that I am helping orgnaise. Hopefully no one has such a Phobia as I had but it would be great if some of my tips are helpful. I now speak publicly very regularly, it still unsettles me but I have it under control and still use these tips and techniques.
First I needed to work out what was going on, why my brain decided to react in this way. For me it was simply feeling like everyone was looking at me with a blank face, no one wanted to hear what I had to say, everyone could see I was struggling and were willing me to fail to laugh at me. This is obviously nonsense, the majority of people want a speaker to do well and the blank looks are not looks of boredom but simply their resting face. When you go on stage it is important to assume support, think of everyone as a friend and feel them wanting you to do well. I find now that a simple bit of audience participation early on really helps me settle in to it. Maybe a show of hands for something or a light hearted comment you can ask someone’s opinion on before continuing. It will put the audeince at ease and you will feel more relaxed. Take a few moments to compose your thoughts, silence before a presenation is quite powerful as it draws the audeinces attention.
It is important to slow down and take your time, I often feel I am speaking too slowly but it looks fine when I have seen video recordings of myself. If you are nervous or uncomfortable your natural reaction is to speed up to get it over with but this will only make your audience lose interest. Look at people face to face when delivering lines, just a few seconds on each person as it will help you engage rather than just looking at the back of the room. Move about the stage, difficult if you are demonstrating software but it is good to keep the audeince interested. Make sure you practice your presentation but don’t over do it. By placing so much importance on a speech it then puts a lot of stress on you to perform. I found that the best, most relaxed presentations I have done have been the ones I haven’t had months to prepare for. InnoJam sessions for example.
If, like I had, you actually have a phobia of public speaking and the thought of it terrifies you then this may help but you need to work at it. I actively tried to re programme my brain and would spend any spare time each day doing this and I still do. First I analysed the feeling I got when I thought about speaking in front of an audience, then I thought about the opposite feeling. For me it was the feeling I get when crossing the finish line of a Marathon or Mountian Bike race, total elation and self pride! My daily excersise was to imagine myself behind a podium addressing a crowd then work hard to swap the feeling from fear to confidence and pride using the visual image of finishing an event. It was hard at first but now when I imagine myself speaking to an audience the only feeling I get is the good one and not fear or anxiety. I still work at this regularly now and highly recommend it if you are genuinely scared of public speaking.
Remember, fear of Public Speaking is very common and it is natural to get nervous but you will be surrounded by people wanting you to do well. People have turned up to hear you speak, you are an expert in your subject and should be confident about what you are saying. If anyone has any questions please ask me direct and I will be happy to help if I can.