Genevieve Vieira
3 minute read
20 Mar 2014
7:00 am

Is public speaking really that scary?

Genevieve Vieira

Do you mumble when you speak in public or forget what you wanted to say?

Lose confidence or imagine the onset of a heart attack coming on? Whether we’re talking in a business meeting or presenting in front of an audience, we all have to speak in public from time to time. Even if you don’t regularly present talks, there are plenty of situations where good public speaking can create opportunities. The problem is, an estimated 75% of people worldwide fear speaking in public, to such a degree that the fear exceeds worries about death, according to a study.

“For many people it (public speaking) ranks alongside fears of illness, flying, heights and terrorism,” says Monique Rissen-Harrisberg, CEO of The Voice Clinic.

“People are afraid they will make a fool of themselves and so the adrenaline starts pumping, the palms start sweating, they forget to breathe and finally the brain stops functioning.”

But public speaking needn’t be so scary. Everyone can deliver a good talk. Even those who present on a regular basis experience some nervousness. Nervousness and excitement are different sides of the same coin. It’s how we choose to use the resulting energy that makes the difference.

“I believe everyone can achieve ease and comfort when speaking publicly” says Harrisberg.

“Forget what your teacher taught you at school and learn to engage with your audience.”

So how do you achieve your full potential? Just like you wouldn’t run a race without training, you cannot deliver a talk without training.

Let down your barriers

“We think we have to protect ourselves and so we erect walls around us,” explains Harrisberg.

“Vulnerability and authenticity are actually two of the most captivating characteristics in a public speaker. Before you speak, take a couple of deep breaths and intentionally push down anything that makes you want to defend yourself.”

Put your audience at ease

When a speaker is uncomfortable, their audience will be uncomfortable. Focus on the content of the speech and not yourself.

Is this fear or excitement?

“It’s so easy to assume that we are afraid of things that are actually exciting,” says Harrisberg.

“Butterflies are not necessarily a bad thing. They only get in the way when you are sure you are afraid. We all hear amazing stories of little old ladies lifting cars when they have adrenaline coursing through their veins. Learn to use this adrenaline and excitement to your advantage.”

Pull your audience in

Much of performance training focuses on the energy going from the speaker to the audience. This often leads to “pushing”. Try flipping this flow so that you are “pulling” the audience to you.

Stay clean

Calming tablets and alcohol can affect the functioning of the brain. Often, we don’t know how our body is going to react to certain medications. Stay safe by staying away from them and believing in your own capability.

Don’t over-prepare

It’s great to have an idea of what you will be talking about, but over preparation can actually create separation with your audience. For the most heartfelt and memorable speech, you want to be present with the people in the room and say what comes to you in the moment.

Don’t judge your performance

Judging yourself during the talk will affect the rest of the performance. Take the moment instead to be grateful for the audience listening to you. Use this grateful and confident energy to your advantage.

Talk positively to yourself

Stop believing all the negative thoughts you feed yourself. If you say “I’m shy” over and over you will not only believe it, you will become it. Harrisberg suggests telling yourself, “I’m glad I’m here, I’m glad you’re here. I know what I know and nothing can change that.”