Fear of speaking means more than sweaty palms and a shaky voice. Your concerns can prevent upward mobility in your field, cause you to lose funding, and unfortunately, stunt the growth of your company.
Your specific fears when speaking in public will be different from your colleagues. Sometimes it means you don’t speak up as often in team meetings, or you become flustered when you speak publicly. For others, a fear of speaking can be more subtle, such as speaking too quickly or a lack of articulation.
“We cannot afford to be afraid to speak to each other” explains Dr. Dennis Becker, founder of The Speech Improvement Company. Whether in a meeting with a colleague or an important presentation for investors, we need to control our fear of speaking.
If you know you have a mild, moderate, or debilitating fear of speaking, the following four tools will help you relax when you are speaking in front of a group. Dr. Dennis Becker has honed what we call “The Silver Square” approach to Fear of Speaking after more than 55 years as a speech and communication coach. It involves four equal sides, and preparation in each area will help you create a positive speaking experience every time.
#1: Know Yourself. Analyze what is causing your fear of speaking. Have you ever had negative thoughts such as:
- “Ug, I’m so bad at public speaking.”
- “Everyone will think I’m unqualified to talk on this subject.”
- “It’s so obvious how nervous I am.”
- “Everyone looks bored, why is this slide deck so long?”
Paranoid thoughts and reinforcing negative self-talk are compelling and have a devastating impact on your confidence.
Next, consider this: What are you like as a speaker? Do you articulate and have clear speech? Do you speak too quickly or slowly? What types of listeners make you nervous; small intimate rooms of two people, or large ballrooms with 2000 people? What specific situations bring on nervousness? A lack of preparation? A distracted audience that is eating or texting?
Now that you know yourself more clearly as a speaker, you can become more mindful of your self-talk. Remember, your fear of speaking is created by the unfortunate way in which you’re thinking about speaking.
Begin to replace your irrational thoughts with coping sentences. Examples include:
- I have useful information to share.
- I’m not expected to be Tony Robbins or Oprah, I just need to get ideas across.
- I can focus on the listener, not myself.
- I am breathing slowly and deeply, and this is minimizing my nervousnes
- I’m proud of myself for sharing this vital information.
#2. Know Your Topic. Seems obvious, but have you ever spoken about a subject you are relatively unfamiliar with? Or have you ever found yourself rambling on and on about a topic you are considered an expert in?
It’s essential to understand how to share your content in the time that is allotted for your presentation. Prepare yourself as much as possible. Think of the questions or comments you are likely to receive and prepare your answers in advance. Think of the questions you hope are not asked and think of solutions for those as well.
If the content organization is your concern, it’s helpful to ask a colleague or professional speech coach to help you organize the material in a way that the audience can absorb and understand.
#3. Know Your Listeners. The third component of The Silver Square is to know your listeners. It is vital to increase the knowledge you have about who is in the room. Questions to ask yourself include:
- Why are these people here?
- What do they already know about the topic?
- How many people will be there?
- What do they want to know about the topic?
- How much time do I have to speak?
- What is the room like; size, light, sound, seating arrangements?
Understanding your listeners will give you immediate confidence. You know what to expect and how to share valuable information and actionable takeaways.
#4. Know Your Channel. The last part of this formula has helped so many of our clients succeed. To know your channel means to understand the means of communication that you will be using to share your message.
Consider your voice, appearance, microphone use, size of the room, slide content, and type of venue. Don’t try to do a subtle and quiet presentation if 300 people will be eating a salad while you are speaking. Don’t plan on break-out activities if the room is packed to the brim with nowhere to move. Be sure you have a microphone if you have a quiet voice and are speaking in a hotel ballroom. Don’t try to cover thirty-two slides in fifteen minutes.
As you can see with The Silver Square approach; Know Yourself, Know Your Topic, Know Your Audience, Know Your Channels, covers the most critical components of your speaking experience. As you apply these time-tested tools, your fear will dissipate.
The Speech Improvement Company has helped over a million people in the last 55 years, ranging from leaders of companies, notable experts, and companies just like yours. Want to learn more? Have a specific public speaking question? Send me an email and let me know how I can help! Reach me at [email protected]
*Portions of this article are excerpts from the book Fear of Speaking, by Dr. Dennis Becker, the founder of The Speech Improvement Company.