How To Tame Speaking Butterflies

Learn how you can tame those speaking butterflies. This article points out how you can become a more confident public speaker - and so move forward in your career.

By JoAnn Hines

Sounds like dangerous work, doesn't it? Butterflies can be very perilous. Everyone has got them at some point, but there must be a way to tame or even overcome them!

Studies demonstrate that glossophobia or fear of public speaking is the number one source of anxiety in the United States. That translates to more than just a few harmless butterflies. For the businessperson, in a small company or a large corporation, the ability to speak coherently and persuasively is a skill vital to one's success. Unfortunately, the fear of speaking in public holds many otherwise confident people back from realising their potential.

A fear of public speaking can be a disaster for the sales person - or anyone in fact - but not to worry. Speaking skills are easy to acquire once the fear is overcome, diffused or controlled. The trepidation that is associated with public speaking revolves around fear of the unknown, the fear of forgetting, the fear that there will be questions you can't answer and the fear of the heckler or disgruntled audience.

These 10 points will get you past those difficult moments when you next have to face the audience. Remember you have something important to say; otherwise you wouldn't be there. Think of your presentation as teaching. Your audience is there to learn from you and you are giving them something of value

1. Write your own introduction

Someone else is probably going to introduce you. Write your intro yourself, making it brief, pertinent, and emphasising your credentials. This is also the place to inject something humorous to loosen up your audience.

2. Know your audience

Do a little background research. Know exactly who is going to be in the audience, why they are there, and why they invited you to speak. TIP: It's always helpful to interject industry buzzwords appropriate to your audience.

3. Check out the speaking venues

Go to the facility early to make sure you're comfortable in the surroundings. Check the microphone, lighting, audio/visual equipment, and any other factors that may affect your performance (especially the room temperature). Greet the audience as they arrive. This is a great way to build rapport and change strangers into acquaintances. It also allows you to get advance questions and feedback from the audience.

4. Start out strong

The first 30 seconds have the most impact. Don't waste these precious seconds with unimportant information. Come out with a startling statement, quote, or story that immediately engages the audience.

5. Limit your topics

If you're giving a half-hour speech, don't expect to tell the audience everything you know. Pick two or three important points. Embellish your points with stories and examples.

6. Be careful with the jokes

Don't use a joke unless you are absolutely brilliant at delivering it. If you bomb, you're going to lose some of the credibility you have. If humour is your thing then intersperse it throughout the program. TIP: Funny elements can be a great segue in to the next component of your presentation. TIP: If you are really nervous you can make a joke about it.

7. Outline your information

You and your audience will remember your points better if you have a path for the topic. For example, start by saying, "Here are the five questions I'm asked most" or "Here are the five things you need to remember from my presentation." Then proceed and elaborate each one. Its helps to quantify the number of points you will be delivering.

8. Use handouts if needed

If your presentation involves statistics and analytical data, put them in a handout that the audience can refer to. Don't bore the audience by reciting numbers. TIP: Handouts are best given at the end - that way the audience will be looking at you not the handout.

9. Don't read your speech

It's the worst way to deliver a topic. Look frequently at the audience. Write down key points or statements so you can refer to them, but deliver the rest of the presentation spontaneously and make eye contact. Practice with a tape recorder or in front of friends and family. After every point, ask yourself, "Who cares?" If the answer is "No one", then omit that sentence. TIP: This is not just an old adage, it is true: practice, practice, practice!

10. End strong

Write a memorable closing statement or use a vivid example. Then, memorise it, so no matter what distractions may occur you can always "deliver". At the end, deliver your closing line directly to the audience, and then accept their applause.

Finally have a back up plan. Have notes if the projector doesn't work. Plan additional ways to engage the audience if your content isn't grabbing them. Relax; enjoy the experience of speaking.

Tips for before beginning the program:

  1. Check clothing and makeup and use the toilet.
  2. Wear an outfit you have worn before. Don't wear something brand new that you may feel uncomfortable in. Don't wear anything that requires adjusting, like tight skirts or trousers, low cut necklines etc.
  3. If you always wear trousers, don't switch to a skirt just because you are speaking to a male audience. Instead brighten the outfit up with an attractive pin-coloured blouse or chic jewellery. Stay away from bracelets that jangle.
  4. Scarves are bad unless you always wear one and have learned not to fiddle with it.
  5. Look at something blue for 30 seconds before you take the podium. It has a calming effect.
  6. Run your fingertips lightly up and down your arm for several seconds - it reduces the stress hormones.
  7. Have someone you know and trust in the front of the audience. Focus on that person until you are over the jitters that will go away after you get started.
  8. Always have a glass (no ice) of water at the podium or readily accessible.
  9. Don't drink hot or cold beverages before speaking.
  10. Adjust the mike to your height if possible before speaking.
  11. If it's a luncheon program eat sparingly (so you stomach doesn't growl) until the presentation is over.
  12. If your hands are shaking, grasp (don't clench) the sides of the podium or lectern.
  13. Don't cross your arms (negative body language).
  14. Learn to do something with your hands. Use them to express a point or use them as a visual aid to point to the screen.
  15. Move around the room. Make sure you have a mike that allows for movement.
  16. Act confidently and you will feel confident.

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