December 3, 2007

What if your worst public speaking fear comes true?

Let's talk about those things that hold many people back from enjoying public speaking.

You may have mad skills, you may have a great personality, you may be a snake charmer with the ability to hypnotically attract everyone in the audience to you.

But those nagging fears still keep you up the night before your presentation and get in the way of truly enjoying the experience. Or you are so paralyzed by these fears that you find ways to avoid public speaking day after day, year after year.

So let's go right to the source and address a few of these - and talk about how to prepare to turn those setbacks into successes.

You're afraid of losing your place

Bring notes! Put them to the side so you don't use them as a crutch. If you forget what you were going to say, take a moment to look at the notes and move on.

You're afraid your computer will freeze up or your PowerPoint will fail

Have a plan B. Have a backup laptop, a backup disk of your presentation, a flip chart, or be prepared to present without technology (this is how we all did it back in the day). Read this interview for an example of how plan B (and almost plan C) was put into action.

You're afraid the audience will see how nervous you are

First of all, they won't. You are 100 times more aware of your own body and physical condition than your audience is. Remember this quote:

"I stopped worrying about what people would think about me, when I realized how seldom people think about anyone but themselves." ~Stephen Eggleston

Beyond that, go ahead and do some deep breathing and relaxation exercises before you begin, and consciously tell yourself to breathe during the presentation.

And take the time necessary to prepare. Do not wing it. The more prepared you are and the better you know your topic, the less likely you are to feel anxiety.

You're afraid of some unforeseen mishap

Are you speaking at an event where food is being served? Ideally, people will not be eating while you speak, but typically there will be clanking plates and clinking glasses, and believe it or not, a waiter might walk right in front of you in the middle of your talk (I've seen it happen).

Are you on a busy street with loud traffic and the occasional tolling church bell? Are you near an airport with jets flying overhead?

Simply stop speaking and wait until the distraction has passed. If you pretend it's not happening and keep speaking, the audience will not hear you and will miss your valuable message - and might be a little annoyed. Just be calm, let it pass, and then continue.

You're afraid of doing something stupid

We've all tripped while walking down the street (I do it more often than most). I can think of two speakers who've left their microphones turned on while they relieved themselves in the restroom. We've spilled mustard in our laps, we've had spinach on our teeth, we've left a button undone.

This is life, people. And the beautiful thing about it is that, if one of these things happens to you, everyone can relate!

So let yourself think of all the possible disasters that might befall you. Create a plan for each one. What will you say? What will you do?

Cracking a joke is the easiest way to defuse awkwardness. A simple "don'tcha hate when that happens?" will be enough to spark a chuckle from your audience, and then move on. Don't dwell on it. Everyone will forget, and so should you.

Planning for mishaps is the best way to deal with them when they happen in real life. Bottom line is that most of the time, the audience barely realizes there's a problem. What seems like a hurricane to you is more like a light breeze to them.

So prepare as much as you can, without over preparing, have your plan B and plan C in place, and then go forth and enjoy your presentation. That's all you can do.

How have you turned setbacks into successes?

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4 comments. Please add yours! :

Anonymous said...

So how do you know the difference between preparing and over-preparing?

Lisa Braithwaite said...

That's a good question, Cam. I think I'll write a blog post about it!

Brian Clough said...

If we knew how little other people thought about us, we'd be insulted!

The funny thing is we're not afraid of public speaking at all.

We're just afraid.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks for your comment, Brian. There are so many other things to be afraid of; who has time to be afraid of the actual SPEAKING?

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