Regardless of who you are and what type of job you currently have or plan to have, there’s a good chance that one day you will be required to make a speech in public. It may be a presentation for your colleagues. It may be a toast at your best friend’s wedding. It may be a statement at a community meeting. Whatever the purpose, you need to be prepared for that day.
Of course, even if you’re never called upon to vocalize your own ideas in front of others, learning how to effectively speak in public will increase your confidence, make you more comfortable with other people, and fine tune your communication – both verbal and written – skills. Before you can achieve those benefits, however, there are two important things that you have to learn first: 1) Why public speaking is important and 2) How to overcome stage fright.
Importance of Public Speaking
Public speaking is not a new trend. Unlike what some people believe, it wasn’t invented by cruel educators who wanted to put children on the spot in front of their peers. In fact, people have been speaking in public since humans first developed the ability to talk.
However, public speaking didn’t become a formal tradition that quickly. The first handbook detailing the how-to’s of public speaking was written in Egypt more than 4500 years ago. Of course, the advice given to public speaking students today isn’t quite that ancient. Most of our rules and techniques, particularly when it comes to the art of persuasion, come from guidelines written by Aristotle, a Greek philosopher in the 3rd century B. C.
Before you dismiss his advice as outdated, you need to realize that every effective public speaker from John F. Kennedy to Martin Luther King Jr. have incorporated Aristotle’s teachings into their presentations. That’s because his methods worked then, and they still work now. Some things simply don’t change much over time.
As I stated in the introduction, public speaking is a skill that everyone needs to learn. Let me give you three reasons why that’s true:
1. Almost every one of us will be involved in public speaking in some form at some point in our lives, so we need to be prepared to do a good job when that time comes.
2. Employers consistently rank public speaking and related communication skills as one of the top skills they look for in employees.
3. Being an effective public speaker gives you the tools to make a difference in your business, in your community, even in the world.
While it may be difficult to feel grateful for the chance to practice your public speaking skills when you are behind a podium and staring out into a sea of eyes, that type of practice is what will help you experience the benefits listed above.
Dealing With Fear and Anxiety
No discussion of public speaking could continue without first addressing the problem of stage fright.
Two separate studies have found what most of us already knew: people are afraid of speaking in public. One study found that 40% of people claim that public speaking is their biggest fear. According to the other study, 70% of people rank giving a speech as the thing they are most afraid of.
Think for a moment about what those findings are telling us. If a large percentage of people are afraid of public speaking, then that means we’re not alone at feeling scared when we stand in front of an audience. That should be some consolation, at least.
Feeling Fear is Normal
Another thing that should make you feel better about your fear is to realize it’s normal. When the human body gets ready for any big event, it starts sending out signals which cause bursts of adrenaline to be released.
Its the adrenaline which causes all of the symptoms we associate with speech anxiety, including having sweaty palms, feeling flushed, having a pulse rate, etc. Everyone, including accomplished professionals in music, athletics, and politics, experience the exact same thing before a performance.
If realizing that your anxiety is a natural reaction and that millions of people, including the majority of people in your audience, have the same fear you do doesn’t help you to relax, then here are a few additional tips they will lessen your speech anxiety:
Prepare for your speech
If you wait until the last minute, you will be more nervous. The more you practice and prepare the more comfortable you will be with your presentation.
Visualize your success
One of the reasons we fear speaking in public is that we’ve never done it. We always fear the unknown. If you close your eyes and visualize yourself successfully delivering the speech, you will literally trick your brain into believing you’ve done it before and you won’t feel as nervous.
Realize that no one can see your nervousness
Even though we’re extremely nervous, we don’t want anyone in the audience to know that we are and the more we worry that they can the more nervous we become. You need to realize that most of your nervousness is invisible to the audience. To them, you just seem to be calmly presenting your speech.
Understand that mistakes are going to happen
No matter how much you prepare and practice mistakes will happen. While we may be devastated if we screw something up during our speech, the truth is that the audience will only realize that you’ve made an error if you draw it to their attention. Instead of making a big deal out of the error, you should simply take a deep breath, collect your thoughts, and keep moving on as if nothing ever happened.
Hopefully, these tips will help you the next time you have to give a speech. Once you get beyond your anxiety about public speaking, you’ll begin to experience those benefits we talked about earlier. They should make the effort worth it.
For a teaching lesson plan for this lesson see:
Public Speaking Lesson Plan
One thought on “Introduction: The Importance of Public Speaking & Dealing with Fear”
I love how you reassure people that fear is normal. We often forget that excellent advice in the heat of the moment. As a professional musician and performance anxiety coach, I resonate with your points and thank you for your efforts in this field. While I specialize more in the classical music world, I believe this article I wrote can give you a similar, yet different perspective of anxiety.