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Overcoming 'The Fear' Of Speaking In Public

06/02/2017 15:00

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Image Andy Spain

Be it the best man cowering at the bar, the team leader hiding in the office toilet or the seasoned conference speaker who still gets sweaty palms just before hitting the stage, we've all had that moment of fear strike before we're about to get up to speak in front of a group of people. This might not be your first rodeo, you've done it a dozen times before so you keep asking yourself why does it always happen to me? How does the saying go again? If you're nervous about something it's because you care and caring after all is sharing.

The most obvious medicine for settling nerves is a few stiff drinks, but that's, in most civil circumstances, out of the question; deep breathing sure works; picturing the audience in their underwear might work for the more deviant amongst you, but that's another story for another time.

I've attended a few events recently with after dinner toasts and guest speakers; you begin to notice reoccurring themes, order, phrases and stances, and I'm not talking about the Tory politicians' 'wide standing pose' fiasco last year!

It seems that the 'sit up straight' phrase your teacher used to shout was not as unfounded as you may have thought. Your posture, body language and perceived attitude will be the first thing an audience notices, so before you open your mouth, you'll need to exude quiet confidence whilst maintaining an air of approachability that encourages the audience to join you on the journey.

The key thing to consider when trying to engage your audience should revolve around the content, be genuine and be passionate! It's hard to try and be something you're not, so why even bother? It won't take long for people to see through it. All this comes back to one of the most fundamental aspects of communication, knowing what you're talking about! Empower yourself, know your chosen topic inside and out and you'll find that once the initial jitters face away, your nerves will too.

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Image David Copeman Photography

Make your speech memorable - I'm not suggesting taking a leaf out of a certain Trump playbook, but "quotable" phrases and visual props will make a difference. Waffles are great for breakfast, but waffling when you talk, not so much. People are easily distracted so don't give them the chance, make sure your presentation is something they've not heard or seen before. I want to come out of a presentation knowing more than I did when I went in. Be concise and to the point.

Now we need to own the content. Regardless of expertise, however obscure it may be, people want a voice and reputation they can trust. Humility is important, it's not all about "me, me, me." However personal, a speech should be relatable to an audience - there's the conundrum, should the audience be picking the right speaker, or is it up to the presenter to target their audience?

Look at the rise of TED Talks, a one-off tech conference developed more than 30 years ago, the global series now welcomes inspiring and influential people with stories to tell and ideas to share, to millions of viewers. Gone are the days of overcomplicated, long winded speeches where elaborate language is used to sound intelligent. In this modern world of limitless stimuli, audiences are craving easily digestible bites of information that will make a big impact.

There's more to being a successful narrator than following a formula, but for the less confident or articulate, words and personality aren't the be all and end all. People will listen if they want to, you just need to make yourself heard!

If you want to find out more about public speaking and how you can change the way you present for the better, be sure to check out this article from the professionals, our friends and co-partners of the Knowledge Guild conference series, Speakers Corner.

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