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Public Speaking


Fear of public speaking is one of the most common fears. This article will provide you with enough useful information to overcome any apprehensions you may have about public speaking.

State is everything

In many of the articles on this website I have emphasised the importance of getting yourself into a good state before performing. This is particularly important if you are about to deliver a public talk.

State is a strong predictor of behaviour, and therefore if you feel good the quality of your actions is likely to reflect this positive state.

Spend downtime making sure that you feel confident, motivated and composed before public speaking. Your speech will only benefit from this.

Before I deliver public talks I always spend 5 minutes visualising myself on the stage enjoying the whole experience, and getting positive feedback from the audience. I also imagine the sound of hundreds of applauding individuals in the audience to further enhance my positive internal state.

Use the space

All top presenters make sure that they use all of the space on the stage.

By moving around during the presentation you hold the attention of your audience. The more dynamic and the more stimulating your talk is, the more likely the audience will retain and absorb the information presented to them.

I personally like to walk off the stage and mingle in amongst the audience during presentations.

Making your viewers have to turn their heads and adjust their seating position is just another way to keep the attention of the audience sharp and focused.

Moving off the stage and walking around in and amongst the crowd, also breaks the division between the two groups.

From my experience this builds rapport between you and your audience by softening the clinical and authoritative presence that some speakers often create.

Moving amongst the crowd also increases the opportunity for you to make eye contact with the audience, further strengthening your relationship with crowd.

Using the whole room as a potential space to deliver you presentation also encourages audience participation.

Feel at ease with your environment

I always like to explore the venue before I am about to perform. This gives me an opportunity to get a feel for the environment.

To create a feeling of ease and comfort before pubic presentations I engage in a mental rehearsal technique. I take a seat at the back of the room and with my eyes open and I imagine myself delivering an awe inspiring talk.

During my mental rehearsal I also take time to look around the room and imagine how others are receiving my talk. I picture them looking engaged and attentive during my presentation.

Feel comfortable with pauses

A lot of the fear public speaking creates, comes from imagining those awkward silences that fill the room when you are unsure of what to say.

This is why so many presenters often feel the need to fill these silences with the repetitious and annoying "hmm".

I like to meet natural silences as friends rather than enemies.

The great pianist Artur Schnabel talked of his experience of being a musician saying that: "The notes I handle are no better than may pianists but the pauses between notes, that is where the art resides."

The same applies to public speaking. All top speakers are comfortable with extended periods of silence during their work, knowing that using pauses correctly does not damage the quality of their talk, but enhances it.

Firstly, pauses enable you to gather your thoughts, giving you time to compose your next sentence.

Secondly, they build up the audience's sense of anticipation, enhancing their level of attention and focus.

Thirdly, they allow you to add emphasis to particular points during your talk. By pausing after an important piece of information you encourage the audience to really think about what was said, increasing the likelihood that the information will be retained.

Interact with your audience before the talk

Part of my fear of public speaking came from believing that my audience would meet my presentation with cynicism and negativity.

To destroy this belief before my seminars, I now make personal contact with as many people as possible within the group.

Every time I do this, I am always pleasantly surprised by how like-minded and enthusiastic my audience is.

This technique is an effective way to create a sense of ease and comfort when you deliver a public talk. Here is a list of all the benefits that interacting with the audience before your presentation provides:

  • Destroys the illusion that your audience is not going to be receptive.
  • Helps you to build rapport with the individuals you interact with.
  • Gives you a quick understanding of the needs of the people that you are presenting to, allowing you to modify certain components of your talk.
  • Know your material

    Experts know their material inside out. Before you even decide on public speaking you must make the commitment to learn your material off by heart.

    Often unnecessary nerves are created by the speaker forgetting sections of their talk. Practice and hard work is the only way to prevent this from happening.

    Regularly present your talk to others and get them to provide you with constructive feedback. I find that the more I practice, the more confident I become, reducing any feelings apprehension.

    Many of my clients that have fears of public speaking have also noted that the benefits of practicing their talk religiously.

    "The more I practice the luckier I get." Vince Lombardi

    It’s all about how you say it

    A common mistake made by many public speakers is that they spend a disproportionate amount of time mastering exactly what they want to say and not enough time on how they want to present their message.

    Research has shown that the effectiveness of a public speaking lies 55% in body language, 38% voice tonality and 7% words (Mehrabian, 1971).

    Therefore, presenting poor content well is arguably better received than good content presented badly.

    Rehearse your presentation making sure that you have a balanced and confident posture, and that your voice is projected effectively.

    Eye contact

    Eye contact with the audience is an important and a universal way of showing your interest in them.

    It is very difficult to have a conversation with someone that refuses to make eye contact. The same is applicable for public speakers.

    If you fail to make eye contact with the audience you will find it difficult to establish trust and rapport with them.

    This does not involve engaging in eye contact to the point that it becomes staring, nor does it involve darting your eyes rapidly round the room trying to address as many people as possible.

    There is a middle ground between the two, where eye contact between you and audience members should last between 3 and 5 seconds.

    When a member of the audience raises their hands, be sure that you make 3 to 5 seconds of eye contact before you vocally acknowledge their concern.

    This will get you in the habit of applying the 3 to 5 second rule during presentations.

    Onto Part Two

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    Click here to read part two of this article.

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