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Presentation Skills for the "Unprofessional Speaker Part 5"
By Bill Wilson   Printer Friendly Version

fifth in a seven-part series of articles on presentation skills designed for persons who don't make or supplement their living from professional speaking.

Part 5 of 7: The Speakerů
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

In this article, we'll talk about just one topic of great concern to almost all "unprofessional" speakers: Overcoming the fear of public speaking. As we'll see, we could easily refer to this as "overcoming the fear of failure," since that is often where the fear of public speaking is founded.

First, keep two things in mind. Even "professional" speakers get nervous. In fact, one very well known speaker that I've corresponded with confides that he comes close to being physically sick prior to almost every presentation he makes; this despite the fact that he is an outstanding, even legendary, speaker. Also, remember that your audience probably is not expecting a lot, certainly much less than you expect from yourself. So, read on to learn about putting your presentation into perspective.

In addition to the fear of failure, I believe that there are FOUR reasons why most speakers get nervous before a presentation. These reasons are directly related to the four key components of a presentation that this series of articles discusses:

  • The Situation - not being sure of the reason for your presentation or being in an unfamiliar or awkward setting or situation.
  • The Audience - not being sure of the expectations of the audience or being with a group of "strangers" or even a hostile crowd.
  • The Speaker - not being sure of yourself as a public speaker or having unrealistic expectations relative to your experience level as a speaker.
  • The Presentation - not being sure of your material or not properly planning, preparing and/or rehearsing your presentation.

When I speak on a familiar topic to a group with which I'm acquainted, I'm almost always at ease. However, if I'm doing a new program and don't feel confident in my mastery of the subject matter, I feel anxious. Likewise, when I speak to an unfamiliar group, I'm often nervous. Don't believe anyone who tells you they never get nervous. As Mark Twain said, "There are two types of speakers: those that are nervous and those that are liars." However, once you've identified and understood the source(s) of your anxiety, you can set out to control and ultimately conquer your fears. In accomplishing that mission, here are SIX things to keep in mind:

  1. Anxiety is better than apathy. Fear means you care.
  2. Keep things in perspective. Don't take yourself too seriously and don't overestimate the importance or consequences of your presentation. Remember that most audiences will be thrilled if you're just not awful! Ask yourself, "What's the worst thing that could happen?" Don't worry about what people will think, even if things don't go perfectly. Follow the advice of speaker Steve Eggleston: "I stopped worrying about what people would think about me when I realized how seldom people think about anyone but themselves."
  3. Believe in your message. Show your conviction and deliver the presentation you would want to hear.
  4. Practice the 3 P's...Preparation, Preparation, and Preparation. Study the final phase of the process involving planning, preparing and delivering a presentation. Despite what you may have been told, it's virtually impossible to over prepare for a speech. And, take every opportunity you can to speak before a group. The more you do it, the better you'll get.
  5. Never apologize. Don't make a production out of the fact that you're nervous...believe me, you're much more aware of your anxiety than the audience. In most instances, the audience won't even suspect you're nervous unless you tell them.
  6. Never forget that the audience is almost always on your side. Have you ever gone to a presentation hoping that the speaker would be terrible? Of course not. Your audience isn't there to see you fail either. About 10% of the audience will like you no matter what happens...we'll forget, for the moment, the 10% that will not like you no matter how good you are. Identify the former in your audience (hint: they're the ones awake and smiling) and focus on them as your confidence and comfort level builds.

Copyright 1999-2000 by William C. Wilson, Jr.
All Rights Reserved.

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