Public Speaking

Public Speaking

Category : PROspective

Most of us will not give a State of the Union address, be in the position to give an acceptance speech for an Oscar, or appear live on CNN. But almost all of us will have to speak in front of a group of people even though fear of public speaking is one of the most common phobias adults report (fear of spiders, snakes, and heights are most common). The name for the fear of public speaking is glossophobia and a whopping 40% of adults report having it. Mark Twain said, “There are two kinds of speakers.  Those who get nervous and those who are liars.” There are also some very logical methods to get past this fear and become a skilled public speaker. This article in Inc. focuses on five methods for speaking with authority and confidence including my favorite, tell a story.

While I am generally comfortable speaking to large groups, I have had a few memorable moments when I expected to be carried off a speaker’s podium, most notably when I was in graduate school speaking at a large conference in Vancouver. After becoming sweaty and shaky, I decided to take off my uncomfortably high heels behind the podium to feel more stable.  I made it through the talk and was then faced with trying to get my shoes back on during a question. My dissertation advisor was in the audience and commented, “You sure got shorter during the talk.” He may not have been the only one who noticed but I had remained standing, my primary goal.  Today, my first rule of public speaking is to be careful with my shoes.

In general, comfort in speaking to large groups is correlated with an obvious area of preparation; practice and more practice.  I like to script presentations, practice and then record it.  Then I listen to the recording specifically listening for places that do not sound like the way I talk so that I can change them.  Most people do not speak the way they write which is why listening is so helpful.  The other thing you hear if you listen to a recording is number of times you say “um.”  Learning to pause, without filler words, is actually a way to place emphasis on what you are saying. Listening helps you find those moments. The last thing I listen for is a way to simplify what I am saying.  I always cut out sentences and words that look great on paper but are not needed to make a point. This is an iterative process until I have a natural sounding, time-appropriate talk.

The last of the methods described in this article pertains to this Native American Proverb, “Tell me the facts and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.” The best speakers are really storytellers even if they are talking about science or a mathematical model.  This is what connects to people and will help them remember what you have presented.

Lastly, as you approach the podium (in appropriate footwear!), remember that 40% of your audience fears public speaking, too. Your nervous energy is normal and the practice always pays off. 

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