A CEO’s Advice on Overcoming Your Fear of Public Speaking
Since the publication of my March 30th LinkedIn blog on speaking and deepening audience engagement, I have heard back from a few who basically said, “All this is well and good, but how can I deepen audience engagement when I have such a fear of public speaking?”
Fear of public speaking is not new. There’s even a term for it – glossophobia. I can appreciate the feeling – as my staff will tell you, I’m a hive of anxiety just before I give a speech. My pulse races, I think I am going to forget everything, and, heaven forbid, what if I’m asked a question that I can’t answer?!
I’m going to tell you what I tell myself: get over it. Speaking engagements are great for many reasons; they enhance your professional standing, allow you to showcase your expertise directly to your target market, differentiate you from your competition, and can lead to new business opportunities.
So, with that in mind, here are some tips that not only have helped me overcome speaking jitters, but have assisted my clients as well.
I started my public speaking schedule about ten years ago. My first engagement was at the Science, Industry and Business Library in Manhattan to about twenty attendees who were mostly early stage entrepreneurs. By starting with a small group, I was able to get acclimated to the role of being a public speaker. Eventually, I began to address larger audiences at venues such as the 92nd Street Y. This year, I was a keynoter for the first time and spoke at Brown Brothers Harriman’s “Women’s Summit,” where audience members included managing directors and partners.
Begin at places such as your local library, chamber of commerce or business group. This will greatly assist you in becoming more comfortable and allow you to polish your speaking skills.
The CEO of Ketchum, a global public relations firm where I worked as a vice president before launching my own PR agency, suggested that one rehearse no more than three times. Anymore, you may sound stilted, too rehearsed. Any less, and you may overlook potential kinks in your address.
When you rehearse, concentrate on the process. Don’t take calls, don’t look at your email and don’t shoehorn it between meetings. Set aside time in your calendar to solely focus on your presentation. Get comfortable with what you're going to say. Depending on the length of the speech, I usually hold an hour in my schedule for each rehearsal.
[Related: Afraid of Public Speaking? Nobody Cares.]
Most of us are seated when rehearsing. However, I strongly suggest you do at least one rehearsal standing up. The majority of speaking engagements require you to stand. Get comfortable talking on your feet. It is a very different feeling than when you’re in a chair.
I would love to tell you that each and every one of my presentations is flawless. They aren’t. There is no such thing as a perfect presentation. Don’t put additional pressure on yourself to be perfect. Yes, you will make a mistake – you may stumble when speaking, overlook a slide (which I’ve done), or go blank. No one expects you to be 100%. Being able get your points across in a succinct, understandable and informative manner is what’s important. If you stumble, coolly self-correct and move on. If you overlook a slide, say “Oh yeah, I also wanted to address this…” and go back to the point. As for going blank, I recommend having a cheat sheet. You can quickly refer to it to refresh your memory. No one will care. They want the information and you’re providing it to them.
Learn to Pivot
OK, someone asks you a question for which you don’t have an answer. Don’t sweat it. Say “Let me get back to you on that. In the meantime, let me bring up…” This is called a pivot. Redirect – or pivot – to a point that you can speak about. Don’t dwell on what you can’t answer. However, if you promise to get an answer to an audience member, be sure to do so. It builds your credibility. And you learn something new.
I hope you find these tips of value. We’re all nervous before a speech – it’s natural. And keeping in mind all of those business-building benefits that you can receive as a public speaker should encourage you to take that first step. You’ll be fine.
Jennefer Witter is the CEO/Founder of The Boreland Group Inc., a nationally recognized public relations agency specializing in corporate visibility. She is the author of “The Little Book of Big PR: 100+ Quick Tips to Get Your Small Business Noticed.” Published by AMACOM and available both as a soft cover and an e-book, “The Little Book of Big PR” has a full chapter on speaking, with advice on everything from publicizing your speaking engagement to types of speaking platforms that best fit your business model (i.e., webinars, workshops, etc). Janet Hanson, the founder of 85 Broads, wrote the foreward. To order a copy, visit - http://tinyurl.com/hlztzf7.
Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.
The Boreland Group Inc.
I am the CEO/Founder of The Boreland Group (TBG-www.theborelandgroup.com), a boutique public relations agency based in NY. TBG was recognized as one of the country's top five black-owned firms "making a buzz" by TheStreet.com. We focus on women-led and minority-owned businesses as well as grassroots non-profits. I am also an active speaker, with presentation on implicit bias, personal branding, workplace language between genders and virtual networking. Among the venues where I have presented: Columbia University,... Continue Reading
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