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Ordinary People Taking Action
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Jerry Seinfeld once stated, “People’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. That means for the average person they would rather be in the casket at the funeral than giving the eulogy.”
According to another source, when people were asked the question, “What are you most afraid of?” the number one fear named was speaking before a group, followed by heights, insects and bugs, financial problems, deep water, sickness and, finally, death.
Then there is this statistic: 74 percent of people have anxiety associated with public speaking.
I’ll admit this information came to me secondhand and I may be lacking some citations here. But based on the volumes of information available on the subject, I think it’s safe to say that the fear of public speaking is remarkably widespread.
I’ve witnessed this phenomenon firsthand. Recently, I was with a group of students who were practicing for an in-class presentation. All seven students were nervous. They had all the data they needed, their parts were memorized, and they were confident in their knowledge – yet, they were terrified to stand in front of the room to give their actual presentation.
I also recently worked with a senior-level leader who was newly appointed as CEO of his organization. I was coaching him on how to identify and work through his near-term priorities. He was planning an all-hands meeting to convey a little more about him personally, share pieces of his style and communicate his near-term priorities. An extremely smart and talented professional, he was unquestionably the right person for the CEO role. He didn’t doubt that. Instead, what terrified him was standing in front of 350 people to share his approach and vision.
On May 22, 2017, the Washington Post published an article titled, “The Key to Giving a Great Public Speech?” The article states that the secret to a successful public speech is to practice in front of a dog. Apparently, practicing in front of a dog provides a non-judgmental audience. Dogs can have a calming effect on people, which decreases nervousness in the presenter. The author also recommends visualizing an audience full of dogs when delivering a speech.
I’ll admit I was initially skeptical. I have never tried practicing a speech in front of my dog nor have I envisioned an audience full of dogs. But I’m starting to think that maybe the article is onto something. The key to public speaking is to reduce your nerves. Presenting to dogs can now be added to the list of expert recommendations ranging from envisioning the audience naked to looking at an inanimate object in the center of the room. What I think all these pieces of advice have in common is that they are strategies to try to make the presenter feel at ease.
For many of us, it’s only when we are comfortable and relaxed that we begin to show our true personalities. When public speaking, I think that is an important piece – showing your personality.
Here are some other tips that have helped me over the years, and might help you too:
Prepare & Practice:
Good presenters don’t just walk on stage and “wing it”. They spend a lot of time preparing what they want to say and practicing how to say it. Ask any good presenter – even the ones who appear to “wing it” – and they will tell you that they prepare and practice. Bottom line, know your material.
For five years, I presented between three to five times a week. That is a lot of presentations. During that time, I was given the advice to find three to five “go-to” outfits. These are the outfits that – no matter what – make me feel awesome. What I’ve realized is, it really doesn’t matter if I wear the same outfits over and over, because typically the people I am presenting to are different each time. Having several outfits covers the possibility that I do have to present to the same audience and ensures something is always clean and ready to go.
We tend to over-apologize and often when not necessary.
Don’t reveal you’re nervous:
There is never a reason to admit you’re nervous. Period.
Remember, your audience is made up people just like you. They will probably give you more grace than you realize. If all else fails, think of an audience full of dogs. After all, dogs are man’s best friend.