Do You Have a Fear of Public Speaking?

I recently gave a talk at 12:30 PM. That’s when I eat lunch, so I figured others would probably be hungry, and their minds might be thinking about food rather than what I was saying.

Do you get nervous when it comes to public speaking? According to surveys, fear of public speaking ranks higher than fear of death.

Over time, I’ve gained some experience in public speaking, so I’m not as nervous anymore. My biggest fear is being boring or irrelevant.

Even though it was lunchtime when I was giving the talk, I used it as a personal experiment. I decided to use the word “illustration” as much as possible, in phrases like: “I could illustrate that by saying…” or “That might be illustrated by…” as often as I could. That’s when something amazing happened. I discovered that when the audience heard those phrases, it brought their attention back to what I was saying. It completely changed the talk. Audience members looked up when they heard those words. They refocused. Afterwards, people told me how much they’d enjoyed the talk.

Later, I told my wife about my experiment. She’s studying to be a teacher, and she told me how important it is teach in blocks of 7 – 10 minutes, because that’s how long the attention spans of the students are. That same 7 – 10 minute block is the exact amount of time TV shows have between commercials, which says a lot about the influence of television on learning in today’s world.

My wife also reminded me how much people look forward to hearing the information in a way they can understand and appreciate. Everyone can read on their own, but having Powerpoint slides presented and read to you seems to pass for teaching these days. Taking the core ideas and explaining them by using illustrations can make boring information become clear and relevant. When it comes to public speaking, getting over nervousness is the biggest obstacle to becoming a successful speaker and actually enjoying the experience. To compensate for being nervous people read their notes or slides to the audience. The audience ends up feeling like their time was wasted – they could have read the slides on their own and saved a lot of time.

One of my favorite bloggers recently talked about how important it is to think about the particular audience you’re speaking to before giving a speech. Ask yourself these questions:

1. What’s on their minds? – If they’re thinking about food, they’re not thinking about what you’re saying.

2. Where is their focus? – If your topic is not important for 2015, it not going to capture anyone’s attention.

3. What’s weighing on them? – They had issues and problems before they sat down to listen to you. That may be taking all their brain power. If you could address that topic and actually help, you’d have a fan for life.

4. What are they expecting to get out of your message? – They need useful information from real-world successes. Not facts from a Powerpoint.

5. How can you give them something of value they can’t get anywhere else? – This is the most important question. It may take time to discover, but any effort you put into this will be well worth it, and the audience will express gratitude to you in ways that you could never anticipate.

When it comes to public speaking, the best piece of advice I’ve heard is “focus on the message, not the messenger”. We spend so much time thinking about ourselves, writing what we’re going to say, carefully choosing each word, then talking about how nervous we are – that we forget about the core message that needs to be conveyed.

The more you focus on the message, the more the words will flow and the idea will come across clearly. To your listeners, the message will sound authentic and honest. It will be appealing, enjoyable to listen to, and your audience will feel that the talk was meaningful and relevant for them.