The art of public speaking: developing presence and overcoming the fear

- Entrepreneurial Skills

by Sam, Management 3.0 Team

Seinfeld put it perfectly when he described how the majority of us viscerally feel when we think about public speaking. He said:

At a funeral most people would rather be in the casket than at the pulpit delivering the eulogy.

What is it about speaking in front of others that terrifies us so much?

In this two-part blog we’re going to tackle a few of the main issues that tend to challenge us when it comes to public speaking:

  • How to acquire the confidence needed to speak your mind in any given situation
  • How to craft and deliver a passionate, articulate and powerful speech that will stay with people long after you’ve finished talking (which will be covered in part two)

If we can master and hone these skills, it’ll greatly contribute to our job satisfaction, our success and to our overall happiness both personally and professionally.

Let’s start with the confidence for public speaking. 

The COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, said, that one of the most important things to do if you want to get ahead, is to sit at the table. She said, “Don’t expect to get to the corner office by sitting on the sidelines.”

So what holds us back from sitting at the table and from expressing our opinions?  FEAR.

Whether it’s getting up in front of a room of 500 people or speaking one-on-one to your boss or a team of executives, fear is the number one debilitating factor when it comes to public speaking and communicating in general. It’s actually most people’s biggest fear, even before death.

Where does this fear of public speaking come from and what can we do about it?

There are six main reasons (amongst a host of others) that people attribute to being afraid of speaking:

  1. Feeling lonely in the spotlight: It can be daunting to be up on stage or in front of a group with everyone staring at you. What can you do? Think less about yourself and more about your audience. Get out of your head and focus on those in front of you.
  2. Thinking I don’t have the ‘gift’: Something super important for us to remember is that good speakers are made, not born. Through hard work and practice, anyone can become a wonderful speaker.
  3. Fear of judgment: We’re afraid of what others will think, but why should we value others’ opinions more than our own?
  4. Thinking that I don’t have anything in common with my listeners: Try to identify with your audience as the more you know about them, the more you will see them as friends and the less nervous you’ll be.
  5. I have no interest in the topic: This is important as it’s hard to give a passionate speech if you don’t care about what you’re saying. If this is the case, either change the topic into something you love or become immersed in it.
  6. They might expect me to know more than I do: A key thing to remember when you’re speaking is that you are the expert. You’re the thought leader and you know more about it than they do – own it, believe in it and be happy about it.

Now that we’ve identified some causes of fear and some ways to approach it, this doesn’t mean that it’ll magically dissipate. It takes time and it takes confidence.

How can we acquire the confidence to move forward and to develop a sense of presence, despite the fear?

In one of the most watched Ted Talk videos, Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are, Social Psychologist, Amy Cuddy, explains how body language affects how we see ourselves – in other words, our confidence.

Cuddy explains that powerful people have one thing in common — high levels of Testosterone and low levels of Cortisol (which produces stress). And so she asks the question: What about the rest of us who don’t naturally have the right ‘chemical cocktail’? How can we gain that power and confidence?

Cuddy sets out to see if small, physical, bodily changes can shape our minds, how we feel about ourselves and ultimately affect our chemical levels.

What she discovers is that our body language has a large impact on our ability to exude presence. For example, before an interview, if we sit with an open stance, head up, palms outward and back straight, we’re not only increasing our Testosterone and lowering our Cortisol, but we’re actually more likely to get the job than if we’d been sitting crossed-legged, head hunched over our smartphones and curled up beforehand.

Before every speech I give, or any evaluation process I have, I go to the bathroom and put my arms in the air above my head. Anyone watching me might think I was nuts, but whether it’s psychosomatic or whether it actually works, I feel a genuine difference in my level of assurance.

It’s called power posing and it’s one little thing we can do that will change how we’re perceived by others and how we feel about ourselves, whether it’s before a big speech, an uncomfortable conversation or if we just want to feel happier.

So we’ve delved into our fears, and how to exude greater presence and confidence, what else can we do to give us that inner belief in ourselves? What can we do that will allow us to feel great while communicating our thoughts with conviction?

There are three main things:

  • Acquire Knowledge: Embrace your gifts and get high on your strengths, as everyone has something to offer. Some of us are great with numbers, others with computers and others are amazing artists or writers. Draw confidence from your gifts and let your weaknesses inspire you to learn more. If you are learning then you are growing. Be proud of what you know and who you are.
  • Listen More: Confidence means having the ability to listen. People just want to be heard, they want to feel validated and acknowledged and they want to be seen. If you’re genuinely able to listen to people, be present, ask questions and rephrase what they’ve said, people will feel like you truly care and in turn they’ll respect you.
  • We can be GO GIVERS, not GO GETTERS: In their book, The Go Giver, Bob Burg and John Mann challenge us to reach unimagined heights in business by giving instead of the usual notion of clawing our way to the top.

Ask yourself, how many people you can serve and how well can you serve them? How many ways can you place other people’s interests first? Are you treating the cleaning lady with the same respect as the CEO?

It’s about building genuine relationships with people, without a motive or agenda. Happiness is feeling good about yourself and believing in your worth.

When you feel good and inspired, you’re able to bring a sense of self to any meeting. When you’re feeling happy and confident, it’s a lot easier to believe in what you’re saying.

The next step is to figure out how to say what you want, in the most powerful way possible. More public speaking tips on that in part two

What’s your biggest fear when it comes to public speaking? Share with us and help others overcome their own obstacles.

Photo: Marcos Luiz (Unsplash)

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