Friday, June 09, 2006

Overcoming your fear of speaking

Did you know that the number one fear people have is public speaking? Even more than dying, folks are afraid to get up in front of a group and make a presentation. That means, at a funeral, most people would choose to be in the casket rather than deliver the eulogy.

What about you? Are you in the box or up at the lectern?

Speaking doesn't have to be a near-death experience. It is all about being yourself and really knowing what you are doing while you are talking.

We usually make a presentation because we want others to take some kind of action. So, who do you have to be in order to inspire someone to act?

Being Yourself

You need to present the real you to your audience. Break down your inhibitions about what is natural and proper. Don't be afraid to shed some of your societal protective layers and be "weird". You don't want ordinary, that is for everyone else, aim for beyond ordinary, extraordinary.

When you are speaking to a group you need to be aware of what they are saying to you. Listen to the non-verbal messages they are saying about your presentation. Be prepared to adapt to their needs, every audience is different and the best of the best speakers are aware and can compensate.

Remember, your audience is supporting you at the beginning of your talk. They have come to get something from your presentation and they possess a huge amount of empathy for you. After all, you are doing something they are scared to do. They admire you. If you lose your train of thought or suffer a technical problem, they are rooting for you!

Know what you are doing

Have you ever said, "I never prepare for a presentation, I perform much better when I wing it!"? You are wrong!

Any talk that is carefully structured, rehearsed, refined, practiced and practiced again, will be far far better than anything you deliver "off the cuff". Impromptu speaking has a place, but it usually isn't alone on stage in front of an audience eager to discover what you know.

Every speech has a four part structure...
  1. Tell them what your going to tell them
  2. Tell them
  3. Tell them what you told them
  4. Give them a call to action

People cannot remember hundreds, dozens, tens or even nine different things from a presentation. You can say a lot, but know what your focus points are. Three main points and a single call to action is a good rule of thumb. Reinforce the three main things you want them to remember.

Tell your audience what is in it for them and why they should care. Decisions are made based on emotion. Once the decision is made, we make up some "rational" and "factual" reasons for our decision. Engage your audience emotionally, then haul out the fact board.

Concentrate on benefits, not features. What's in it for them? I don't buy a drill because I need a drill, I buy a drill because I need to make a hole. What needs does your audience want fulfilled?

Be prepared!

Did I say that already?

Equipment will fail. Powerpoint files will become corrupt or be erased. Microphones will die. Cell phones will go off. Don't get caught unprepared. Know what you will do and never lose focus on the purpose of your presentation.

Leave your audience with a call to action. Something for them to do.

Have you ever heard someone make a case for a good cause and finish with "I hope you will think about giving us your support"?

This is not a call to action. Thinking is not doing. Your call to action should be for a specific result by a certain date. Our fundraiser should have asked, "Support our work by making a sustaining donation at our table in the lobby tonight. We accept cash, cheques and credit cards."

Your call to action should be the next logical step for your audience.

Be yourself, even if it means changing who you usually portray yourself, and be aware of your audience. Know what you are doing, be prepared and make a call to action.

Now go and give that eulogy!


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