The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
Franklin D Roosevelt, US President 1933–45
Did you know that the fear of public speaking has a term?
It’s called Glossophobia (glosso — tongue, phobia — fear).
Some of you may know the feeling:
Accelerated heart rate, dry mouth, pounding head, red face and neck —
What does it mean?
It might not even be a speech. You might just have been asked to introduce yourself at a meeting or have a conversation with someone!
I learnt French at school. I wasn’t great at it so I lacked confidence. I also didn’t get much practice in speaking so my verbal French skills were not wonderful. My French teacher loved getting us to read a paragraph of French text aloud, one by one. As each student read and it became closer to my turn, I would experience all those feelings — I would feel physically ill as it became nearer and nearer to my turn.
It was, however, never quite so bad once I was reading and I always survived that impending catastrophe.
You probably have all experienced these feelings to some degree at some time in your lives. If you haven’t, you are certainly one of the lucky ones!
I went on to study French at university where I had audio labs every day for a year and had to speak only French in lectures and tutorials. I discovered that total immersion is the best way to face your fear!
We’ve all learnt tricks for speaking that we think are going to help us feel less afraid:
- Read your speech
- Use a lot of PowerPoint slides
- Don’t look at the audience
- Rush it
- Imagine the audience in their underwear
- Wear your lucky shirt
I’ve tried all these techniques with varying degrees of success. The lucky shirt never worked, however.
I’ve done a bit of research on how to make a great speech and the following tips come up time and time again.
The usual tips
1. Practise — aloud, in front of people but not in front of a mirror
2. Converse — talk to a person or several people in the room as if you’re having a conversation
3. Breathe — take some deep breaths to get over any nerves
4. Do not read — take some small cards but try not to use them
5. Stand tall — imagine you are being held up by a piece of string
6. Start with a story — dispense with introductions and thank yous — dive right in with an anecdote. You could start with a question, a statistic, or a story
7. KISS — Most people won’t remember most of what you say so keep it simple, with one main message and some great stories to get your message across
8. Keep it short — if your speech is 5–7 minutes long, prepare your speech to run 5–6 minutes to factor in audience reaction. You do not want to run over time
9. Comfortable body language — be comfortable and relaxed and show enthusiasm. If you show emotion, your audience will too
10. Slow down — the important thing is to articulate your words — speak clearly, do not use words like ‘um’, ‘ah’, ‘you know’, ‘so’, just pause and leave some space. You don’t have to perform on stage; you can be your true self and still be passionate. Different delivery styles can work.
These are all great tips.
However, Richard Greene, a public speaking trainer, in his TED talk asks us to drop the term ‘speech’ and he tells us not to talk to our audience but to have a great conversation with them. His main strategies consider tone and body language over words (as he says most people remember only 7% of what they hear).
As Confucius said:
I hear and I forget.
I see and I remember.
I do and I understand.
Richard’s 7 secrets of great speakers
1. Words — choose your words, structure, pausing
2. Tone — vary your tone from quiet to loud for emphasis
3. Body language — posture and gestures are key to your message and your confidence
4. Message — think about the one thing you want to leave people with
5. Connect — with your audience on a human level
6. Use the languages of connection — visual (Robin Williams), auditory (Ronald Reagan), auditory digital (content — Bill Gates), kinaesthetic (Barry White, James Earl Jones)
7. Be authentic — don’t be overconfident if it is not your natural way. Small nuances work equally well.
I want to leave you with some wise words by Seth Godin, inspirational author and entrepreneur:
Dance with fear; it just might work.