Did you know that many Americans fear giving a speech more than death? Yet, giving speeches and making presentations are critical in today's society. In fact, most job descriptions require that applicants have "strong spoken and written communication skills." • Even if you don't have to make presentations at work, chances are you will be called on to make some type of a speech in your lifetime. So, why are so many people afraid of public speaking? Researchers will give you a multitude of reasons, but here are the most common:
Not knowing how. It used to be that American schoolchildren were required to speak in front of the class on a regular basis. These days, not so much. Fewer and fewer people enter adulthood with the self-confidence and verbal skills that public speaking can bring.
Insecurity. No one wants to feel vulnerable. People dread speaking in front of a group because they fear they'll make a mistake and be judged.
Perfectionism. Many people think their speech must be perfect. They think they must be a brilliant and eloquent orator who can't make a mistake, mispronounce a word, or horror of horrors, lose his or her place.
How do you get over these irrational fears?
Attitude. Believe that your audience has your back. These people are interested in what you have to say. They want you to succeed and they feel for you because they've been in your shoes.
Have something valuable to say. The best presentations aren't the wittiest, longest or the ones filled with facts and figures. Valuable speeches tell the audience what they need and want to hear in simple, easy-to-understand language.
Just a few facts. Design your speech around two or three key points. If you fill your speech with too much information, the audience won't be able to absorb it all and they will lose interest.
Keep your audience involved. Use quotes, examples and humor whenever you can. A good laugh breaks the ice and shows you to be a regular person, just like the people you're talking to.
Look like you're really interested in your subject. How do you expect to get your audience involved if you aren't? Incorporate a few gestures to make your points. Try to vary the inflection of your voice as you make your key points.
Forgive yourself for making a mistake, stumbling over a word, even losing your place. The key is to keep your cool and keep going. Remember, it's not about you; it's about giving your audience valuable information.
Keep it short. If you're given 20 minutes to speak, speak for 20 minutes. Remember the advice Franklin D. Roosevelt gave his son James on speechmaking. He said, "Be sincere, be brief, be seated!"
Practice, practice, practice. Stand in front of a mirror and look at yourself as you speak. Time yourself. Work on words and phrases that are tripping you up.
Don't panic if you forget something while you're speaking. If you've practiced enough you'll be able to include it later or just skip over it and stay on track.
Still afraid of speaking in public? Take a public-speaking class or find a Toastmasters International chapter near you at www.toastmasters.org. Toastmasters helps people become good communicators in front of an audience.
Marie R. Stempinski is the founder and president of Strategic Communication in St. Petersburg. She specializes in marketing, public relations and business and career trends consulting. She also leads workshops. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.