This week I heard a radio commentator refer to the time-honoured, greatest dread of people (supposedly): the fear of public speaking. The host noted how importantly the skill of being able to deliver presentations could impact one’s professional opportunities.
He then alluded to a just released story of a teenager who has confronted his own trepidation, by sending out an entreaty to educational authorities that he be spared from having to make presentations to other students in class. There has been reaction to this quickly in social media. No doubt, ‘experts’ on both sides of such a debate are aplenty.
I’m a long-time Toastmaster, who five years ago departed a career in financial services, and thus frequently has had to make versions of presentations, to various sized groups of people, over many years. Naturally, on some of these occasions I was more in ‘the zone’ than others, but always managed to get through.
So, I have a couple of concerns about these perspectives.
I used the word supposedly with respect to the perception of public speaking being greater for many people than, for example, fear of death or other tragedy. In our club over the years, I’ve seen many join because of their stated fear of talking in front of a group. Yet, when the opportunity is presented to them to speak in front of the supportive group of club members, they are often loathe to follow through on the main reason they joined, wind up making few speeches, and in many cases drift away without making a serious effort to address this supposedly important goal. If this has been such a concern, which caused them to seek out an organization like Toastmasters to begin with, what happens to their motivation, and commitment, to personal growth and career advancement?
Concerning the student’s effort to eliminate classroom presentations if disliked, clearly more education of the implications is required. The education system should both develop the mind and prepare the individual to find their place in society. Effective communication is pivotal, and can’t be found exclusively in mobile devices. With all the tools for self-improvement readily available these days, it’s too bad some still have to learn the hard way.
So, what are some practical ways to confront the fear of speaking in public…
- Practice doing ‘soapbox’ speeches: their tiny size should remove any feelings of intimidation
- Have a two drink minimum for your audience, so that whatever makes up your talk later comes across as impressive
- Hire a special effects artist to provide production values backing up your presentation
- Tape clues to prizes under the seats to bring a distracted audience back to alertness
- Deliver the talk in different voices so as to maximize appealing to a diverse audience
- Purposefully fumble with your performance early on, to make it easier to rise to audience expectations
- Bring back the laugh track
- Plant a couple of supporters in the audience, ready to demonstrate for you on cue
- Imagine the audience not only in their underwear, but also trying to maintain yoga positions
- Have a comfort pet visible with you, to elicit the benefit of the doubt from animal lovers
See, there are many ways to improve one’s chances with an audience.