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Can Fear of Public Speaking Actually Make You a Better Speaker?

By Larry Tracy

Few elements of modern life can be so detrimental for one's ability for self-improvement and success than "Fear of Public Speaking." Surveys indicate, however, that this is the is the number one source of apprehension in the United States. The first survey to point this out appeared in the October 7 1973 issue of the Sunday Times of London. The findings have been verified by countless other surveys and studies in subsequent years.

The Times survey found that 41% of the 3000 respondents listed "fear of public speaking" as their number one fear, while 19% listed "death."

For the businessperson, either in a small company or a large corporation, the ability to speak coherently and persuasively is a vital skill, but this "fear of speaking" holds many otherwise competent people back.

This can be a disaster for the sales person, but it need not be so. Speaking skills are easy to acquire once the fear is controlled. Note that i said "controlled," not overcome.

In the hundreds of executive workshops I have conducted, I have found a high percentage of intelligent people apprehensive at the prospect of giving a presentation.

Is this fear unique to modern life? Probably not. Pericles, the great orator and statesman of ancient Greece, observed about 2500 years ago that

" Those who can think, but cannot express

what they think, place themselves at the

level of those who cannot think."

One of the fundamental reasons smart people cannot "express what they think is the paralyzing fear of speaking in public.

If you suffer from that anxiety, rest assured you are in the main stream of the American public. In this article, I'll provide advice on how to make this nervousness work to your advantage so that you actually become a better public speaker because of your fear.

DON'T KILL THE BUTTERFLIES

Among the physical manifestations of nervousness can be a queasiness frequently labeled "butterflies in the stomach." Someone in the field of speech training once said you didn't want to kill the butterflies; instead, get them flying in formation.

I certainly agree with the basic premise of controlling, not eliminating, nervousness. I find it disappointing when colleagues and competitors in the field of presentation skills training promise that if you buy their book or attend their workshop, you will never again fear speaking in public.

That is absolute rubbish. It causes people to make overcoming "Fear of speaking" their main objective. Their objective should be to frame and deliver their message in such a way that they persuade their audience to adopt the point of view they are advocating.

I have seen many nervous speakers do an excellent job because they believed in their message, and I have seen speakers so calm it seemed rigor mortis had set in. Their calmness made them appear indifferent, and they bombed.

You want to be somewhat nervous. It releases the adrenaline that gets you "pumped," that shows passion and enthusiasm. It is the same as the pre-game jitters of athletes which allows them to convert nervousness to energy.

Presenters must make the same conversion into that positive energy which demonstrates the presenter's belief in his or her message.

A TRIO OF FEARS AND THEIR ANTIDOTES

1. FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN

As human beings, we tend to be more afraid of what we don't know. For presenters, the audience is the great unknown. You will wonder: "What do they expect of me? Do they know much more about the subject than I do, etc.?" You will have the tendency to magnify the knowledge of the audience at the expense of your own knowledge.

ANTIDOTE:

Convert unknown to known. The more information you gather on the audience and the more intensive your practice session, the more the unknown will be converted to known.

Guard against procrastination, however, because we tend to accomplish what is in our comfort zone, and put off more difficult tasks, such as systematic audience intelligence collection and rigorous practice. Bite the bullet, and you will have those fears of the unknown dramatically reduced.

2. FEAR OF FORGETTING.

When told they will have to make a presentation, most people are consumed by the fear their mind will go blank, and they will stand in front of the audience without the slightest idea of what they are to say.

They play it safe, write out their presentation, and read it verbatim to the audience. This guarantees failure People in an audience want to listen to a speaker who is connecting with them, and is looking at them, not at a script.

ANTIDOTE:

If you have practiced diligently, even a temporary "power outage" of your brain can be handled.

The solution I have always used is what I call the two-card tango. Place a startling statistic or interesting fact that you have had to delete for reasons of time on a 3x5 card.

On the second card, place a bullet outline of the main points of your presentation. If convenient, place these cards in your pocket or on the lectern.

When the "My mind has gone blank" syndrome sets in, merely take both cards and say to the audience "Let me digress for a moment and share with you...." then relate the information on the first card. If you have prepared well, your mind will kick back in, and you can continue where you left off.

If it does not, slide the second card to the front, and look at the bullet points. Select one point and continue the presentation. Your audience will be none the wiser.

Although I always advocate honesty with your audience, I do not recommend that you say "I forgot what I was going to say." You may get temporary sympathy, but audience members will wonder why they are sitting there if the issue is not important enough for the speaker to remember what he or she was saying.

3. FEAR OF UNANTICIPATED QUESTIONS.

Many people are not worried about making a presentation, because they are "on their turf." These same people, however, are terrified at the prospect of answering questions, believing they will be embarrassed by not being able to answer questions.

ANTIDOTE:

Seek to anticipate the questions. If you have acquired accurate "intelligence" on the audience's needs, concerns and problems, then you should be able to preempt certain questions in your presentation, anticipate others, and develop succinct answers to others.

No one expects you to be able to answer every question, but they do expect you to be honest. Don't give a false answer to avoid the embarrassment of saying: "I don't know." That honest phrase, followed by the words "but I'll get that information for you," must be in every presenter's vocabulary.

When you make the commitment to get the information, remember that you have a moral obligation to do just that for the questioner and perhaps the entire audience.

Apply these antidotes, and you'll find that the "fear of speaking" will be the catalyst to make you a better speaker.

Copyright 2005 Larry Tracy

About The Author
This article is excerpted from Larry Tracy's book, The Shortcut to Persuasive Presentations. Larry has been cited in numerous publications as one of the top presentation skills trainers in the US.. His website is in the number one position on Google for "persuasive presentations. Visit it for FREE tips and articles: http://www.tracy-presentation.com.


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