Public Speaking can be scary, we all know that. With some 70 per cent of the adult population facing communication anxiety, you’re not alone if public speaking is something you’d rather avoid.
I myself used to be truly terrified of public speaking, so I am familiar with the blank mind, dry tongue, awkward feeling of being looked at by an audience. It still catches me off guard sometimes today.
Yet, as I discuss in my book ‘How to be Brilliant at Public Speaking’ (Pearson), there is a way to not only get through a speech or presentation, but to actually enjoy it.
The very best speakers are not carbon copies of other ‘professional’ speakers, but show humanity, personality and quirk. This is the best way to bring energy into the room, which is vital for the success of your talk. The great news is that being yourself is easier than putting on a mask and pretending – and it’s more effective for the audience too.
Don’t take the nerves seriously
Physiologically, nerves and excitement are exactly the same thing – it’s just our judgement of that tingly feeling as nerves that makes us feel like something’s going wrong. I still get ‘nervous’ after more than a decade of public speaking, but I’ve learned to laugh at the nerves and see them as a sign that I’m doing something exciting or important.
Body language matters
Whilst it’s important to be yourself, we’re looking for the powerful, centred version of yourself on stage, rather than the fidgety version of you who looks like she needs the loo. Learn to get aware of what your body’s doing when you speak and drop the mini-gestures that undermine your impact. Get feedback from an expert to help you spot what you can improve.
Think more about your audience than about yourself
Most speakers trip themselves up by worrying too much about themselves. ‘What will I say?’ ‘What if I don’t know enough?’ ‘What if I forget my lines?’ The common word in all of these questions is ‘I’. When we obsess about ourselves, we forget about the people that really matter – the audience.
Spend your time asking ‘They’ questions instead to put the audience at the heart of your talk: ‘Who are they?’ ‘What do they know already?’ and ‘How can I serve them?’ Do this and you’ll be less nervous and deliver talk that’s more satisfying to your audience.
Dare to lead your audience
At my company, Ginger, we have a saying that Public speaking is an act of leadership. What that means is that when you stand up to speak you are automatically influencing your audience. You can either influence them with a strong, positive intention, or let your nerves be in charge. The latter means that your influence will be a weak one.
The best thing you can do for your audience is take charge. Be intentional about the impact you want to create and what you want them to learn. This is leadership.
Follow these tips and you’ll not only enjoy public speaking, but you’ll also be rather good at it.
About Sarah Lloyd-Hughes
The UK’s leading leadership communications expert & best-selling author. Sarah Lloyd-Hughes is a multiple-award winning public speaking coach, founder of Ginger Training & Coaching and author of “How to be Brilliant at Public Speaking” (Pearson).
Sarah’s particular passion is helping senior female leaders to become visionary communicators, capable of rallying change. If you’re interested in this work, she invites you to get in touch via www.gingerpublicspeaking.com, or https://www.linkedin.com/in/sarahlloydhughes/