Workplace doctor: Confront your fears of public speaking
I have taken a big promotion which puts me in a client-facing role for the first time. This means I have several big presentations coming up in which I will be addressing several hundred delegates. This is a hugely daunting concept for me as I have always been terrified of speaking in public. So what on Earth can I do to conquer this fear as my first presentation is just a month away and I am absolutely terrified. PT, Dubai
Through all this darkness and fear there’s one fact that may relieve you just a bit. You are not alone by any means — the fear of public speaking is often at the top of “greatest fear” lists for many. There is a famous saying (source unknown): Most people would prefer to be lying in the casket rather than giving the eulogy. I hope the following steps will alter your perspective on public speaking, moving it from being a hugely daunting task to one you embrace with confidence and competence.
First, to gain confidence adopt these two tactics:
• Develop a breakthrough strategy for whatever your fear is facing
You have not mentioned what it is that you actually fear about public presentations. There can be many and varied reasons ranging from not wanting to see the faces to fear of going blank through to fear of tripping up on stage, fear of rejection among many others. Fear is a response that has been programmed through continual, generally negative reinforcement. If a response can be programmed can it be reprogrammed too? Also what can you do in the meantime? If it’s the faces you fear, look at the back wall at a spot just over head level, or find the friendliest face to connect with. If it’s the fear of tripping on the steps before you reach the stage, start the talk from an “on stage” perspective. Go up the steps before the event starts and wait in the wings. Know the source of the fear and make the presentation work for you, not the other way around.
• Visualise how you are going to deliver the speech then make it happen
Confidence comes from knowing the unknown or undesirable simply cannot happen. What situations fall into this category for you and how can you eradicate the possibility? If the message needs to be understood, then use a strong backbone when designing the message. If the presentation needs to be understood across multiple cultures, then keep the language simple. If the presentation depends on a video, then have a backup in the case of technology mismatch. If the new computer has not been used for a presentation, then use the tried, true and tested one.
Seond, set yourself up for success from the very beginning by being as prepared as possible:
• Have enough prompts to “save” you if the unexpected strikes
Build prompts, ready-reference points and support into your visual aids. For years, I’ve used pencilled cheat notes on flip charts and PowerPoint lists can act as support too. Never present, especially a longer presentation, without some type of plan to fall back on. You are, after all, only human and anything can take your attention away, at any time. Safety nets are essential.
The next step is to gain competence by being consistent and building up your public speaking ability gradually.
Competence is the ability to perform or deliver. In public speaking it is not wise to aim for the stars in your first attempt. Start off slowly with a strong structure and from there gradually progress with each presentation. Add exercises, visual aids and surprises one by one; remove yourself from the podium gradually with the option to return if the open space becomes too much. Practice, practice and practice again until great habits are instilled. Keep your eyes and ears open for great ideas, but do remember they may work for one presenter and not another. Have yourself filmed and be ready to self-reflect on how you come across.
The final step is to use the next 30 days and 30 nights to practice, conquer and allow your confidence and competence levels to soar. Are you willing to try?
Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. You will reap what you sow.
Debbie Nicol, the managing director of Dubai-based business en motion, is a consultant on leadership and organisational development, strategic change and corporate culture. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org for the Workplace Doctor’s advice on your challenges, whether as an employee, a manager or a colleague