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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.

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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.

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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.

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17 Comments

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  1. Tammy Powlas

    Very good, Tim.

    I think you were reading my mind.  I volunteer at the local public library and a book caught my eye – the “Joy of Public Speaking” – I hope to write a review to share my experiences but it was spot on.

    Speaking slowly is something I have to work on as well.  The audience does want you to succeed.  Practicing over and over helps too.

    Thank you for sharing and I hope others step forward to share their experiences.

    Regards,

    Tammy

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  2. Tony De Thomasis

    Three tips that have served me well…

    1. Make sure your presentation tells a story. Arrange your material and information you wish to convey in as interesting a way as possible.
    2. Have an ice-breaker. “A funny thing happened on the way here today…” This subtly tells your audience that you are not just there to recite your slides.
    3. Talk like you talk. The best speeches do not sound as if the speaker is “giving a speech”

    http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2012/01/your-voice-will-give-you-away.html

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  3. Roel van den Berge

    Hi Tim,

    Great blog! At InnoJam Madrid in 2011 I remember you presenting your case and one of the things that struck me was the (perceived) ease with which you presented. Very calm, very well articulated and very confident. To me it seemed like you were giving these presentations all the time. Good to read that you once struggled with the same issues that I struggle(d) with. 🙂

    Something that greatly helped me in improving my presentations is asking for feedback from a trusted person. I always ask someone to watch my presenting skills and give me feedback directly after my presentation. I will always try to remember what was said the previous time I gave a presentation and work on it during a new one. One of the pitfalls for me is the use of ‘eh’. This is a hard nut to crack, especially when you’re giving a presentation that is not in your native language. Although I think I speak English OK, giving a presentation in English is much harder for me than in Dutch. I admire people like Thomas Jung who barely use ‘eh’ (see the Open SAP videos). Come to think of it I wonder if he had any training in that…

    Cheers, Roel

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    1. Tim Guest Post author

      Thanks Roel, InnoJam 2011 I was very nervous but that was a turning point for me when I got the positive feedback. Great advice to ask a friend for feedback too.

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  4. Akshay Gupta

    Tim,

    This is just excellent.

    Like many, I too have a huge phobia of public speaking, and I am working on it bit by bit.

    Public speaking is seriously something, which you either deliver like a ZEN-Master or you could have deadly defying palpitations.

    There is sure a way to turn the anxiety all the way around, and you articulated it well.

    Still long way to go, Slowly Slowly Catchy Monkey 😏

    Regards,

    Akshay.

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  5. Mark Teichmann

    Hi Tim,

    great blog!

    I was very impressed from your talk for our team at Innojam 2012. I would not have thought that you did not like speaking that much.

    I think there are not so many out there who really love to speak in public, especially when we are dealing with developers 😉 People like Rui are an exception here I think. But small events like the Inside Tracks are a great chance to practice speaking and also talk about things that you like and also are interested in.

    Apart from giving excellent talks (which I will never do but which also is not my goal) I think it is important that your words and your feelings are consistent. There is no use in doing a perfect preparation when you do not trust in what you say. (Like the guys from marketing do 😈 )

    Cheers,  Mark

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  6. John Astill

    Great blog Tim. I also saw you in Madrid and would not have guessed you have a phobia of public speaking.

    I also was the same, small or large I did not feel comfortable. I got great advice when prepping for demo jams and it sticks. Tony also mentions it, make your presentation a story. It makes it easier for you to tell and keeps the audience engaged.

    I also try to involve the audience, for me it gives me the feeling I am among friends and not strangers and let’s me be me, and not a cold presenter.

    I still have a tendency to talk too quickly, which I am working on, I am not sure if that is nerves or just my excitement.

    I really love presenting now, especially at SIT events. Time to plug SITNY June 28th 🙂

    If all my ducks align I hope to use up my air miles and come to SITMan.

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    1. Tim Guest Post author

      It is somewhat reasuring to read that so many other people had similar feelings to speaking in public. A person’s outward appearance can be so different to how they are feeling inside and this is what I tried to focus on, why was I the only person who thought I looked nervous?

      It would be great if you can come to SITMan, if you want a speakers slot let me or DJ Know!

      Tim

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  7. Jim Spath

    I took a course in “Public Speaking” offered by my work a few years back. I got a lot out of it, though I had been an ASUG and TechEd speaker for a few years, The instructor’s comment that I was “unafraid of anything” was quite a compliment to my acting skills. Of course I am nervous before, during, and after presentations, but preparation is everything (also a Scout motto).

    Somewhere the “before” and “after” VHS tapes exist…

    Thanks for sharing!

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  8. Kumar Mayuresh

    Hi Tim

    This blog came up at right time for me, and I had a look at it  – when today in the office I was preparing an initial – internal training presentation for SAP HANA as I am supposed to present/train the HANA team, and your suggestion  

    It is important to slow down and take your time

    did made me float with confidence and was able to answer all the questions.

    I do agree with this :

    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.

    Thanks a lot, you just made me comfortable in speaking in small set of highly qualified and senior audience.

    I hope rest of the days will be a lot easier for me.

    Regards

    Kumar 

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    1. Akshay Gupta

      All the very best, Kumar.

      This content by Tim Guest will totally help you get through it with success.

      Just take a pause before beginning and load this blog up in your memory and scan through the core basics. You will do well.

      I would be thrilled to know how it goes.

      Regards,

      Akshay.

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  9. Ivan Femia

    Great blog Tim Guest

    I still have the fear of the crowd but I know that after a speech I feel great! I like to share my experience and I’m still learning a lot in order to improve my abilities.

    It is important to slow down and take your time

    This is the best suggestion for a great performance.

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  10. Mohammed Moqeeth

    Hi Tim,

    This is really an interesting and helpful blog where I got to know good techniques of delivering public presentation with confidence. I see some good points in this blog where you says  It is important to slow down and take your time .  Also Tony has given some good tips for addressing a good presentation.

    It is very important to engage the audience. Interact with them by asking questions and know their interests and needs and match their needs with contents. Once there is a good communication with audience, then presenter will be more confident and delivers good presentation.

    – Moqeeth.

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  11. Marcia Walker

    The “slow down” part is always a challenge – I’ve even been accused (correctly) of ‘speaking’ too fast in sign language!

    The most helpful public speaking tip I’ve learned is to always remember that it’s NOT. ABOUT. ME. 

    It is about the receiver of the message. I am irrelevant.  As long as the audience member gets what they need out of that moment, that is all that matters.  I like to think that I am a bit like a radio – there’s a signal that I’m transmitting, and if the receiver understands the message, it doesn’t matter what they thought of the radio itself. 

    Though I do wish I could find a foolproof tip for modulating the speed of the darned radio signal!

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