Let's talk about all the ways you "speak in public" every day.
You meet new people at a party.
You ask for help at Best Buy.
You run a meeting at work.
You ask a question at a meeting at work.
You order a sandwich at Subway.
You talk on your cell phone while you're walking down the street.
You persuade your coworkers to adopt a new practice.
You tell a story while hanging out with your friends.
You publish posts on a blog, tweets on Twitter or messages on Facebook that reach hundreds or thousands of people.
Technically, the definition of public speaking involves presenting to a group of people in a structured setting with an outcome in mind. But all of the above examples involve you speaking out loud in front of people.
So why is it so much more nervewracking when you prepare content for a predetermined presentation to a group of people?
1. You're afraid of forgetting what you were going to say.
Hmmm. Doesn't that happen every day in conversations with your friends and coworkers? But in that setting, it's not the end of the world if you lose your place in a story. You just back up and keep going. You can do this in a presentation, too. The audience won't judge you any more than your friends will. In fact, the audience will be a lot nicer about it than your friends!
2. You're afraid of being judged.
You post comments to the world on Twitter and Facebook, and talk to your boyfriend on the phone while sitting in Starbucks, and certainly people are judging you. We all judge each other all the time; it's a fact of life. But that doesn't mean that people aren't supportive and interested in what you have to say.
The reality is that people form impressions of you based on what you say, what you write, how you dress, how you do your hair. There's no way to escape it, so be who you are, face your audience with confidence and let go of the concern for what people think of you.
3. You're afraid of looking foolish.
You ask for help all the time. You ask for directions, you ask which router is better than another one, you ask the postal clerk which shipping method is fastest or least expensive. You're not expected to know everything in the "real world," so why do you pressure yourself to know everything when you're giving a presentation?
Of course, you're the expert on your topic, and you should know what you're talking about. But nobody knows everything about everything. There are probably people in the audience who know things that you don't know. So why not incorporate that into your presentation?
Embrace the learning that comes with a diverse audience. Ask them to share their experiences and knowledge. If you don't know something, say so and ask if anyone else has an answer. No big deal.
4. You're afraid of being boring.
Guess what: No one wants to hear your cell phone conversation, either. That's really boring to most people. But when you're speaking to an audience, they've come specifically to hear you speak. They want to hear what you have to say. So right there, you're already ten times more interesting than to most people you encounter in a day!
Now just make sure that you've learned about your audience and taken into account what they care about and what they want to know. Make sure that you've researched what makes them tick, and make sure that you've thought of some ways to interact with them so the whole presentation isn't about you. You will not be boring. I promise.
These are just a few examples of how the "public speaking" you do every day translates over into a formal presentation. Give it some thought, and you'll realize that you're always speaking in public. How can you take that information and apply it in other settings?