The Challenge of Public Speaking

Most people would prefer not to speak in front of a bunch of people. That might be an understatement. Research shows that on the list of people’s biggest fears death is number five and speaking in front of groups is number one. So when people say they would rather die than speak in front of a group they are very serious. 


Years ago when I was with the Dale Carnegie Organization people would contact us looking for help with learning to speak in front of groups. When they heard the classes required them to actually speak in front of the class many of them became uninterested rather quickly. 


Here’s the first challenge with public speaking…you must speak in public to learn to speak in public. You may learn how to outline a presentation or how to open or close a presentation from reading a book but learning to speak can only come from speaking. If anyone tries to sell you a public speaking class that doesn’t involve speaking be very careful because next they will be trying to sell you ocean front property…in Montana. 


Face it, learning to speak in front of groups will require two things, a group and you speaking in front of it. 


So here’s a few ideas to make that learning process a bit less scary.


Admit you’re a little nervous but don’t apologize for it. Most of the people in your audience would be just as nervous as you, if they had the courage to even try. Admitting to some nervousness will help your audience be more understanding if a flub or stammer finds its way into your presentation.


Understand that your audience didn’t come to see you fail. They are rooting for you to do well. They are on your side and are willing to give you the opportunity to do well without being too critical.


Use PowerPoint as it was intended to be used. It is not your notes and it is not a shield to hide behind. It is not your presentation either. It merely compliments your presentation. It should help simplify difficult concepts through the use of visuals. 


If a slide is full of words then you don’t need that slide. If you feel the need to apologize for a slide being an “eye chart” then don’t use that slide. If you don’t have a definitive purpose for a particular slide then don’t use that particular slide. 


Share the real you. I have spoken in front of groups large and small more times than I could ever remember but I have never given a speech. I simply talk with the people in front of me like we’ve known each other for a long time. Even if I’ve never seen them before.


Do not try to be something or someone you’re not. You may fool some of the people once in a while but it is more likely that you are only fooling yourself. 


Never try to memorize your presentation. You may pull that off once or twice but the list of things that can go wrong when you try to memorize a presentation word for word is so long I can’t mention them all. 

Above all else know your subject. If you know what you’re talking about you have nothing to fear. If you don’t know what you’re talking about then you have no reason to be talking at all.