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.


Public Speaking for Non Speakers

Public Speaking! The mere words back-to-back send shivers the down spine of most people. On the list of a human being’s biggest fears public speaking is nearly always in first or second place and the fear of death is no higher than sixth. So when people say they would rather die than speak in front of a group they aren’t kidding, at least statistically speaking.

I’m in front of groups often but I’ve never made a speech. I do talks. One of the keys to successfully speaking in front of large groups of people is to realize that you’re not talking at them, you’re talking with them. It’s a bit of a one-sided conversation but still, it’s just a conversation. Making it more than that only makes it harder on you, the presenter.

Your fear of speaking in front of a group will subside in direct proportion to the amount of preparation you put into your talk. That said, you should also know that’s is possible to over prepare. I’m often asked how long it takes me to prepare for an hour or two talk. The truth is I spend very little time preparing for an individual presentation but on the other hand, I’ve spent decades preparing to speak on the subject.

While preparing to speak in front of a group here is one absolute no-no. Never, and I mean never, memorize your presentation. If you absolutely must read it then read it but never attempt to memorize it. So many things can go wrong with a memorized presentation that I couldn’t begin to list them all here.

Here’s a public speaking truth for you: if you know what you’re talking about you have no reason to be nervous, if you don’t know what you’re talking about you have no reason to be speaking. You cannot be effective in front of a group talking about something you know very little about. If you don’t know your subject inside and out no amount of preparation will hide that fact from your audience.

The best way to be effective in front of a group is to just be real, be yourself. Don’t think you need to be perfect to be effective. It’s okay to stumble here or there, to misuse a word and have to correct yourself. It’s okay to be less than perfect because it gives you one more thing in common with your audience. Nobody is perfect.

Never use three words when you can say it effectively in two. A great speaker doesn’t count their words, they weigh them. Big, seldom heard words are not the secret to success in speaking, they are the reason for lost audiences. Just talk the way you would to a friend, big words don’t make you an effective speaker, connecting and truly communicating with your audience does that. If you have to look up a word to know what it means, don’t use it in a talk because your audience might not have a dictionary handy.

Most importantly have fun. I try to never lose sight of what an honor it is to be trusted to speak in front of a group. If someone else has that amount of trust in you then you can surely have it in yourself. No audience goes to hear a speaker hoping that the speaker will fail, your audience wants you to succeed almost as much as you do. They are on your side. Have fun with your presentation, if you’re having a good time presenting your information it’s much more likely that your audience will enjoy hearing it.

Lastly, remember people seldom actually die from speaking in front of groups. Oh wait, I guess it’s that “seldom” part that’s the problem.😏