A common fear of individuals is the fear of public speaking. According to the Book of Lists, it is ranked higher than the fear of sickness, heights, insects, or even death. As Jerry Seinfeld once said, if these statistics are true, someone would rather be in the coffin than giving a eulogy at a funeral.
I have worked with many professionals over the years and they have expressed many fears about making a presentation. Let’s take some of these concerns one at a time and see how we can deal with them:
1. What will they think of me?
If you were asked to speak, it is probably because you have the knowledge and expertise. Keep reminding yourself of that. Be authentic and genuine without divulging any negative statements or apologies. Apologies bring attention to your shortcomings. Use positive self-talk to focus on your strengths.
2. What if I panic and forget what to say?
Do not memorize your speech! You run the risk of sounding robotic and if you forget one word, line, or idea, you will be thrown off and may have trouble recovering. Use brief notes or PowerPoints to help you stay on track (but do not look down and read your notes!)
3. What if technology does not work?
Ask ahead of time to see if an IT professional will be available. Arrive with plenty of time to set up the technology and test it out. Make sure you have a back-up plan, e.g., extra speakers if you need audio, handouts, printed out slides for your reference in case the PowerPoints do not work, your own laser pointer and remote, etc.
4. What if I do something to embarrass myself?
We are all human; have a sense of humor. Check out your surroundings ahead of time to avoid tripping on wires or falling off a platform. By all means, wear sensible clothing, and watch what you eat and drink before your talk (soda can cause embarrassing consequences!).
5. What if someone is not interested in my talk?
Maybe it is not due to your delivery. Perhaps, something else is going on in their lives, e.g., not feeling well, a sick family member, a poor night’s sleep, a bad work day. Perhaps your subject matter does not pertain to a particular person. Don’t assume it is YOU. Focus your attention on a friendlier face in the audience. Try not to doubt yourself. If you are teaching a workshop, you may try to engage the uninterested or sleeping individual; if it is a timed technical/scientific presentation, focus on the engaged members of the audience.
6. What will I say?
PREPARE, PREPARE, PREPARE!
Make sure you know your audience so you can tailor your speech to their interests. You cannot use the same speech for every audience. Find out who will be in the audience and what their background is. You should have a solid introduction and conclusion to frame your talk. Remember, that is where you make the first and lasting impression.
7. What if I sound boring?
Rehearse your talk and either audio or video record it so you can hear how you sound. An animated speaker uses effective pauses, stresses key words, and alters pitch. Think about what words you can stress to emphasize key points; highlight them in your notes. Remember to pause and vary your rate. Think of your presentation as a conversation with the audience so you can sound more natural. If your natural voice is boring, consider vocal training to improve your delivery.
8. What if there is a hostile audience?
Learn about your audience ahead of time so you can be prepared for all types of questions. Speak to their concerns before they even voice complaints.
9. What if I am asked difficult questions?
Try to anticipate the questions so you can be prepared with your answers. You can always defer the answer to a later time. Remember; at the end of a question and answer session, make your final statement
so you maintain control and send them away with the message you want to make. Otherwise, they may remember the last challenging question and that might make the last impression.
10. What if the setting is unsuitable, e.g., extraneous noise, hot room, etc?
Check out the venue beforehand to see if accommodations can be made. The audience knows it is not your fault. See what you can do to work around the obstacles.
Embrace the opportunities to speak and share your knowledge. You may even begin to enjoy it!
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