The following Article was written by Josh Popichak and published in the June Issue of Steve Harrison’s Book Marketing Update. It is offered here by permission of the author.
Have you ever had a nightmare about having to make a speech, or found yourself panicked about speaking to a group in real life? If so, you’re far from alone. Whenever Americans are surveyed about their greatest fears, the fear of public speaking is usually at the top of the list. Why is that? According to executive coach and communications expert Richard L. Hudson, many people can trace their anxiety about public speaking to a traumatic incident as a child or teen. “A lot of us had our first public speaking experience in school…and it was just about the time…when most of our classmates were pretty brutal,” he says. “Even if you made a little mistake, you’d get teased like crazy.”
Fortunately, there are many time-tested techniques and systems for overcoming this phobia. It’s definitely worth the effort. Learning to become a powerful speaker can have a profound impact on your life and professional success.
Succeed by learning to connect with an audience
Houston criminal defense attorney Tyrone Moncriffe is a great example of someone who transformed his career after he developed stronger speaking skills. He had consulted public speaking expert Sandra Zimmer early in his career as a trial lawyer, complaining that he could not make a connection with juries. Moncriffe realized that he was not winning as many cases as he should have because he was “somehow alienating” the jury. After Zimmer helped him learn some techniques for befriending the people on a jury, “he got to where he was pretty much winning all the time in the courtroom,” Zimmer reports. After a few years, Moncriffe gained so much confidence that he decided to enter an international speech competition called the International Platform Association Competition. This prestigious event is held every summer and people come from all over the world to compete. He’d asked Zimmer to coach him, and she agreed. “I just reminded him to do all the things that I had taught him to do; to ground himself in his body…and to tell (his) story simply, from the heart,” she recalls. Thanks to these instructions, Moncriffe went on to win the competition, and became the first first-time competitor ever to win it. He told Zimmer that while his competitors were performing in front of the audience, he had learned how to become “at one” with the audience.
“It is utterly amazing how much confidence you have in yourself once you know you can speak,” Zimmer concludes. “It transforms the way that you ‘be’ with people. Once you learn how to be with others, you can make a connection with anyone, anywhere, in any kind of situation.” Zimmer’s route to training others to feel comfortable speaking began when she was an actress in a production of “Camelot” in Hawaii more than 20 years ago.While performing a scene in front of 200 people, she almost lost her costume. Somehow, that experience helped her drop her defenses and awaken her ability to feel totally present in front of an audience.
Fortunately, it’s possible to develop the same skills without going through a “wardrobe malfunction” on stage. Once she understood the power of presence, Zimmer began to teach others how to create a profound connection with a live audience. She went on to facilitate hundreds of groups and help thousands of people transform their stage fright and fear of public speaking. She often works with professional and creative clients, from doctors, lawyers and business executives to speakers, authors, actors and singers.
Why introverts may make the best public speakers
Zimmer says she helps all her clients feel comfortable in their own skin. “You’ve got to be able to be in front of a group and connect with your own feelings, even if your feelings are tense and anxious,” she explains. Once you feel grounded, you can begin to develop a style of speaking which is authentic and uniquely yours. This is particularly important for introverts, who “have to be authentic, or they feel terrible,” she explains. Surprisingly, Zimmer believes that introverts often “make the best public speakers, because they have the most passion.” That’s encouraging news for writers who feel most comfortable working in solitude but have an important message they want to share. Zimmer estimates that 85 to 90 percent of her clients are introverted. She tells her clients that the final step in developing confident public speaking skills is to “work on telling stories.” Authors, in particular, have lots of stories to tell. “And when they’re telling their stories they’re comfortable. So it’s a matter of telling stories and making your points. And that’s it in a nutshell,” she explains. “Once you know that you can speak, it’s like life begins to bring you opportunities to share and to make a difference,” she adds.
Develop your internal focus
Richard Hudson, who is the author of 70 Steps to Speaking Success and the creator of a seminar called “Speak Your Mind, Without Losing It,” instructs his clients to focus on their audience, rather than on themselves. That’s because “if they are asking themselves, ‘Why am I here?’ or ‘Why am I front of an audience?’ that can have a real detrimental effect,” he says. Hudson specializes in helping speakers prepare for any distractions they may face. For instance, he helped a church pastor recover from a traumatic incident that occurred when she spoke at a graduation exercise for a group of nurses. “She was doing just fine, and then a baby started crying,” Hudson says. “She started talking to herself, saying ‘Why doesn’t somebody take that baby out?’” and she lost her concentration, and as a result, she lost her way during her speech, he explains. It helps to think of public speaking as a kind of sport, Hudson suggests. Like an athlete, you’ll need to prepare yourself mentally before your presentation. But you also need to stay flexible. Monitor your audience’s reactions and change your approach if they appear disengaged. “Connect with what’s important to your audience about what you’re saying,” he advises. “Once you’ve decided what your message is…stay connected with (your audience) and notice their response.”
Channel your emotions and move your audience
While emotion plays a big role for successful speakers, many people misinterpret their feelings before giving a speech. Hudson’s clients would often say to him, “I must be afraid because I have butterflies in my stomach, my knees are shaking and I have a dry mouth.” But when he pressed them about why they were experiencing these symptoms, they had a hard time deciphering whether they were feelings of fear or excitement. “They were noticing physical sensations, but they were interpreting them as fear.” So he helped them realize that these emotions of anticipation and excitement are normal, and can actually help them convey their passion to their audience. When Hudson speaks, “one of the things I think about is ‘what emotion do I want the audience to have when I finish, or during various points (in the speech)?’” he says. Because emotions are contagious, the best way to get an audience to experience an emotion is for you to express that emotion too. Hudson consciously chooses stories that match the emotions he wants to convey. By doing this, and by speaking from the heart, “you actually lead the audience to the emotion you want them to have,” he concludes.
Speakers who make most of their money on back-of-the-room sales of their books and other products agree: moving their audience’s emotions also tends to motivate them to trust the speaker and want to buy their products. Like Zimmer, Hudson tells his clients that confident public speaking can open doors to opportunities they may never have dreamed of. Because there’s so much technology in between us and other people, we tend to forget the power of speaking to a live audience. “I think that those experiences are even more important now,” he says.
Additional tips from other experts
Along with her book, It’s Your Time to Shine: How to Overcome Fear of Public Speaking, Develop Authentic Presence and Speak from Your Heart, Zimmer recommends two other authors whose work she admires: Lee Glickstein and Janet Esposito. Glickstein, who overcame a severe fear of public speaking when he was in his late forties, is the author of Be Heard Now! Tap Into Your Inner Speaker and Communicate with Ease and the founder of Speaking Circles International. To mentally prepare for speaking in public, he advises his students to “spend a minute with yourself in the mirror in silence” before beginning a speech. “Just breathe with yourself and feel the stillness under your feet,” he says. “Notice any discomfort and realize that’s what you take out to audiences,” he adds. Esposito, who also suffered from a debilitating fear of speaking in public, is the author of both Getting Over Stage Fright and the Amazon.com bestseller, In the Spotlight: Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking and Performing. A private coach and workshop leader for people with public speaking and performance anxiety, Esposito’s favorite piece of advice is to remember that a speaking engagement is “not about you.” “When we are fearful, we tend to get very consumed with ourselves and what others may think of us,” she explains. Remember instead that your audience is there to hear your message.
5 keys to overcoming your fears and becoming a successful speaker
1. Be authentic. You’ll feel more at ease if you know you’re being yourself, and your audience will react positively. “Speaking is not about learning to be a good performer; it’s about learning to be who you are in front of others, so that you are free to share your expertise,” Sandra Zimmer says.
2. Focus on your audience. Once you stop focusing on and worrying about yourself, you will be able to forge an emotional connection with your audience, which is something all successful speakers can do.
3. Prepare yourself for possible distractions. Distractions such as ringing cell phones can derail even accomplished presenters. Richard Hudson recommends that speakers think about the most important thing they want to communicate — and pay close attention to their audience’s reactions — to maintain a heightened level of concentration.
4. Try Toastmasters. Toastmasters International (TI) is a nonprofit organization that operates clubs worldwide designed to help individuals improve their public speaking skills. Many successful speakers received their training from TI. Personal historian Dee Dees says that after joining TI she went from being “so shy I couldn’t lead a group in silent prayer…to someone who can speak comfortably in front of hundreds, teach workshops to dozens, or have an intelligent conversation with a stranger.” Toastmasters can help novice speakers overcome their fears, think on their feet, develop organized presentations, build confidence “and so much more,” she adds.
5. Practice, practice, practice. “Prepare, practice, present (and) prosper,” advises vocal trainer Sally Morgan. Preparation, which can include videotaping yourself or “practicing your presentation out loud in front of your family or your dog,” will increase your confidence and help you develop your own voice.