Public speaking.

It’s a high-ranking fear for many people throughout the world. Some dread it more than death!

Can it really be that gruesome? Sure, there are all those eyes staring at you, and all the minds trained on picking apart your every word and movement. Who knows, the audience might notice something you had for lunch stuck in your teeth, or maybe your fly is open, but of course you can’t look or feel to see if it is, but what are those people over there giggling about … horrors!

All right, maybe it is pretty scary. But some of us thrive on speaking to groups. How is that possible?

Speaking for myself (sorry about the pun), presenting to groups helped me to get over shyness back in high school, and it’s now one of my favorite ways to impart the knowledge I have to share. It has helped me to be a popular instructor in a variety of teaching situations and to pursue opportunities head-on that others avoided. I can attest to the fact that most people are not born with the ability to speak well in public—I wasn’t. Just like everyone else, I started out terrified. But I knew that this terror would limit me, so I pursued forensics (the art and science of developing skills in debate plus extemporaneous and interpretive speaking, not cutting up cadavers). I found that the more I faced my fear, the easier it became to stand up and just do what I needed to—deliver a message.

You will find a plethora of advice out there about how to overcome speaking anxiety and hone presentation skills. But I boil it down to very simple terms. Over the years, I’ve learned that three things provide the answer to fearless and focused speaking. I call them the three P’s: poise, passion, and practice.

Poise

Take your task seriously. Armchair wisdom has often included quips like “Imagine the audience wearing nothing but underwear!” I say, respect the audience, and its members will respect you. Stand up straight, look them in the eyes, speak to them respectfully and with audible enunciation. These people are present to gain something from you, and it is your duty to deliver it in a considerate manner.

Passion

Have you ever caught yourself going on and on about something excitedly because you are so interested in it? That’s the kind of passion it takes to truly engage an audience in what you are saying and not in any quirks of how you are saying it. So, what if you are required to talk about something that you’re really not passionate about? Then you need to GET PASSIONATE about it, at least for the moment. How? Find the seed of what interests you about it by doing some research. For example, I can’t imagine anything much less interesting than plumbing, but if I consider the vast impact on health and civilization that the invention of plumbing has had, I could talk about valves and elbow joints with a heartfelt zeal. Find whatever it is in a topic that floats your boat, and let that come through in your presentation.

Practice

Surely, you’ve heard this tip before. Everyone says practice is the key, and in this case, everyone is right! The less you need to think about what to say next, the more you can focus on smooth delivery, breathing, and making eye contact. Know your presentation inside and out, and you will have one less thing about which to be fearful.

Resources for Further Reading

Here are some additional resources for various aspects of public speaking. Enjoy!

Toastmasters 10 Tips

Tips from MIT

Better public speaking

Overcoming fear of speaking

Dealing with public speaking anxiety

Minimizing um’s and uh’s

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