What is it about public speaking that terrifies most of us? Research shows that around eighty-five percent of us rate public speaking as one of our greatest fears, and around fifty percent rate it higher than the fear of death. There are countless publications and training programs on successful public speaking, but it’s still a daunting prospect.
The most common worries are:
- Forgetting information or losing our train of thought.
- Dry throat or losing our voice.
- No response or a negative response from our audience.
- Tripping on our way to or from the podium.
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So let’s look at these worries, starting with the first one - forgetting our information. The obvious solution to this one is to use notes or prompts. PowerPoint presentations are fine in a work situation, but for most other situations it’s perfectly acceptable to use notes. A good trick is to underline or use a highlighter to draw your eyes to important points on your page, and use your finger as a guide as to where you’re up to. Don’t forget to look up often and divide your attention equally around the room.
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To avoid a dry throat, it's not recommended to drink wine beforehand as it will only exacerbate the problem. Suck on a soothing throat lozenge and keep a glass of water at the ready. If you’re really worried, there are solutions you can purchase at the chemist to treat mouth dryness.
In order to elicit a positive response from your listeners:
- Know your audience and what they've come to hear.
- Make sure your speech content is relevant to the demographic.
- Don’t be too formal or rambling.
- Project your voice. Speak to the back row.
- Slow your speaking pace a little. Pause occasionally.
- Try to engage or involve the listeners in some way. Ask them a question.
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- Smile. Try and inject a little humour if the situation allows.
- If you fumble or make a mistake, laugh it off.
Of course there is always the worry of tripping on your way to or from the podium or stage. I have a friend who was asked to speak to a group about her new book. She has MS and was a little wobbly on her feet that day. On her way to the podium she tripped and fell flat. Several people rushed to help her up and guided her to her place. Consequently she opened her speech with the words, ‘Now that I have your attention...’ The audience laughed and she carried on with her speech in a relaxed and informal atmosphere.
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So the next time you’re asked to speak to an audience, keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be a stomach-churning nightmare. Remember those statistics? Eighty-five percent of your audience is glad it’s you up there and not them. They’re secretly admiring you for having the courage to step up to the plate.