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Speak without fear

Dry mouth, a pounding heart, hard to breathe, dizziness, butterflies in your stomach…

…How often do you any experience any or all of these if asked to give a talk or presentation?

If you said ‘often’, you’re not alone.

Truth is, speaking nerves are entirely normal regardless of who you are.

It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about high-flying leaders, subject experts or world-famous political orators (and incidentally I include some old-school speaking super-stars like Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, and President John F Kennedy in this mix)…

…It’s hard to wrangle your speaking butterflies to ‘fly in formation’ without applying both craft and effort. And hence today’s tips to set you on a road to speaking with more confidence:

1.   Turn up ‘ready to play’, every time you speak

Never turn up to speak at a meeting or conference without having devoted a serious amount of time to practice and preparation – aka the hard yards!

I’ve lost count of how many senior executives I’ve coached over the years who – before working with me – told me they’ve often relied on Divine inspiration in the past because:

  1. They wanted to give the impression that their speaking was more natural or off the cuff, and/or
  2. Having felt too time-strapped to prep adequately for their talks, they just hoped they’d be ‘alright on the night’!

What a dreadful plan which – not surprisingly – doesn’t work. And this isn’t just because lack of preparation will be obvious to almost any audience…

…It’s because: a) 90% of a good speech is made before you stand up and say a single word, and b) There is no such thing as an outstanding orator who doesn’t practice extensively before speaking.

Just like a golfer who wins a major or a top surgeon who performs life-saving open-heart surgery has spent tens of thousands of hours honing his or her skills before achieving mastery of their crafts, practice really does make perfect and inspires greater confidence.

2.   Don’t try to memorise your speeches

When asked what they fear most about public speaking, leaders commonly admit that they worry a lot about losing their place, forgetting their words or looking foolish amongst their peers.

And how do many leaders respond to these fears? Those who don’t try to read their speeches off many wordy PowerPoint slides or a full script (Note: Don’t adopt either of these tacks as you’re guaranteed to put audiences to sleep and win zero recall), they try to memorise their speeches.

And while this is only marginally better than the folks who bore audiences into submission by reading, it’s still a huge mistake. Here’s why.

Do you remember when you were in school and asked to memorise a poem or something? If you were nervous about remembering it, would it be fair to say you probably rattled it off as fast as you could – so you couldn’t forget bits and in an effort to be done as quickly as you could?

Now imagine you’re trying to memorise a speech that’s say 30 or even 40 minutes long. Does that sound like a lot of work?

You bet.

Most speakers who rely on memory can’t help it, they’ll speak far too fast in an effort not to forget parts of what they wanted to say.

And the problems with this are:

1)   The faster you speak, the less opportunity there is for an audience to keep pace with you.

2)   You’d also more likely to forget parts of your talk if you get distracted for any reason. And FYI if you notice this and feel uncomfortable about it, your audience will likely notice your discomfort and tend to share your view!

If you’ve ever had the experience of losing your place in a speech, it can be a really unnerving experience, as 2 seconds seems like 20 and 10 seconds like an hour!

Don’t put yourself under such pressure. Your audience doesn’t expect it and you’re not doing them or yourself any favours.

It’s perfectly alright to have notes you can refer to, which encapsulate key points you want to make – just so long as you don’t read your speech

What fears do you have about speaking in public?

Over to you now – let me know what your greatest worries are about speaking in public and I’ll aim to discuss these in future blog posts.

Also, what lessons have you learned over time that helps you to calm your nerves before you speak?