Communicating as a Leader

Leaders Overcoming the Fear of Public Speaking

Brian Toppin asked:

Public speaking is, and has been, listed as the number one fear for many years. And while most survey results come from North America, I firmly believe it is a worldwide phenomenon. The anxiety, tension, and sweating that build up before someone speaks is palpable, and if that energy isn’t channeled properly it can and will overshadow what they have to say. The audience will pick up on the discomfort (almost immediately) and will either tune out, or concentrate on the speaker’s body language and tone, and not what they are trying to communicate. There are three techniques I will discuss on how overcome your fear of public speaking, which are: channeling your fearful energy into positive energy, walking and talking with confidence, and remember to breathe!

I’ll never forget the first time I had to do a presentation in college in front of my marketing classmates. My heart was almost beating out of my chest, and I was sweating (thank God for deodorant and my undershirt). When it was my turn to speak I got up in front of the podium, swallowed a big gulp of air (literally), looked down at my notes and spewed forth the first paragraph in under ten seconds. If it were hundred-meter race I would have set a new record. I looked up to see my classmates in disbelief that I had spoken so fast, and the room was dead silent. Thankfully, they looked so funny that I laughed, and then they laughed, and with the tension broken I finished a lot stronger than I began. But after that day, I knew this was something I had to overcome. I have made many more speeches in college and university, as well as in the working world, so much so that I can now enjoy speaking in front of people, no matter the size of the audience.

As the world becomes a global village, we communicate more and more in a variety of situations. Meetings are held for staff, management, shareholders and clients. WE do business at teleconferences, seminars, annual board meetings, trade shows, and I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture about the numerous opportunities there are for you to speak in public to your audience. Those same people can be in your immediate area or half way around the world. And I suggest to you the further away they are from you the more important it becomes to communicate clearly. That way nothing is lost in translation.

As leader it is imperative that you are able to speak with confidence and clarity. It is a great advantage to have, and people will say with admiration about how well you are able to articulate your ideas and proposals. You become more empowered and are seen as a greater asset to your company Needless to say just being an effective public speaker separates you from your colleagues or competition (sometimes they are the same). Decide now not to “try” and be good public speaker, stand up and declare that you MUST master the art of public speaking because above all else YOU will benefit the most from it.

First, remember and accept that you will always be nervous before speaking. That’s a good thing when you channel your energy from a nervous state to a peak – positive state of mind. One of the things I do before minutes before my talks is repeat the following – it’s my time, it’s my time. Simultaneously I slow down my breathing, and gently rub my hands back and forth. By doing these three steps over and over it helps me to focus on what I am going to say, become confident that people are here listening to what I have to say, reinforce the fact that I know my talk better than anyone else, and I am ready to share my message. Now the affirmation or self-talk may be different for you, as well as putting yourself in a peak state. The main thing is to develop steps that will alter your thoughts from giving a speech, to speaking with authority on a topic that you are well educated on and that people want to hear you talk about.

The second point to remember is, when you stand to give your talk, your physiology must exude confidence, even if inside butterflies feel like dragons raging in your stomach. Keep your head high and walk with purpose. As I mentioned before people will pick up on your state almost immediately.

The third and final bit of advice I can pass on is, before you start to speak, take your time and steady yourself with some deep breaths. If you can sip a glass of water before hand (without your handing shaking and spilling it) then do so; that extra few seconds will not be noticed by your audience, and it gives you the opportunity maintain your peak state.

Remember as a leader people are looking to you as an example of how they themselves should act. Becoming a great public speaker takes practice, the ability to channel your nervous energy, creating a peak state of confidence, and exuding that confidence in your physiology. Again, deep breaths in, and let them out slowly. You can do it!


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