SALES

Cure Your Fear of Public Speaking

Don't let this common fear hold your career back and keep you from achieving the success you deserve.
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It's almost impossible to be successful in business presenting your ideas in public to a group of people. Unfortunately, public speaking makes three out of four people feel nervous and anxious, making them less effective.

Not to worry. Here are six ways to cure that fear and truly shine when you're at the podium.

1. Don't procrastinate. If you let the anxiety keep you from thinking and preparing, you're creating a self-fulfilling prophesy of failure.  The moment you know you'll be presenting before an audience, start outlining and thinking your presentation through.

The more time (elapsed and actual) that you spend preparing, the less time you'll spend dreading the experience.  Getting right onto the project also give you more time to organize your ideas and rehearse.

2. Organize your argument. The purpose of every speech and presentation is to cause the audience to make a decision.  Start with that decision, write it down, and then move backwards from "Here's where I want them to be" to "Here's where they are today."

Arrange your argument in a logical sequence, providing each point with both a visual representation (bullet, graphic or photo) and one or more facts that support that each part of your argument.

There's a real sense of security that comes from knowing that your speech makes sense and that you've got facts to buttress and prove each point.  Having a "bulletproof" argument is like wearing armor.  You're safe, protected by the facts.

3. Start with an arresting fact. The root of the fear of public speaking is the worry that the audience is judging you.  Not to freak you out or anything, but they are indeed judging you.  However, in most cases, audiences decide in the first 15 seconds whether or not you're worth listening to.

Because of that, craft the first 15 seconds of your speech so that it captures attention and proves that your topic is important to the audience.  To do this, you begin with a fact or statistic that's relevant and surprising.

A strong start creates momentum.  Furthermore, seeing the audience (often literally) sit up and take notice reduces anxiety, because now you've got them in the palm of your hand. I discuss this in "15 Seconds to a Better Presentation."

4. Rehearse and visualize. Fact: the emotional part of your mind can't clearly differentiate between real and imagined experiences. Because of this, you can make yourself less nervous about an event by visualizing it as a positive experience.

The best way to do this is to rehearse your talk, while simultaneously imagining your audience having a positive reaction to it.  As you're rehearsing, imagine how great you'll feel when you know the audience "gets" what you're saying.

5. Test everything beforehand. Whether you're aware of it or not, part of your fear of public speaking is the nagging worry that something outside your control might go wrong, like a broken slide projector or a microphone glitch.

Indeed, maybe you've seen (or worse experienced) such problems.  For example, at one keynote I gave a while back, the high wattage projector in the auditorium melted my plastic slides, leaving me to proceed impromptu. It was nightmarish.

To reduce and eliminate this element of your fear, check the meeting room setup and any equipment you'll need twice: once long before the meeting and then again just before the meeting takes place.

6. Speak to individuals not the audience. Finally, when you're actually presenting never speak to the entire audience. Instead, pick out an individual in the audience and speak directly to him or her.  Pretend everyone else is simply overhearing a conversation.

Every time you move to another point or slide, pick out a different person in the room and speak directly to that person.  It's harder to fear "public speaking" when you're speaking a person, rather than to the public!

As an added benefit, this technique (almost magically) makes everyone in the audience feel as if you were addressing them personally... even if you never picked out that person to talk to!  As a result, your talk will be better received and more memorable as well.

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IMAGE: Diego Cortés / Flickr.com
Last updated: Oct 31, 2013

GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist

Geoffrey James, a contributing editor for Inc.com, is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed over a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know. If you enjoyed this post, sign up for the free weekly Sales Source newsletter.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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