Fear of public speaking is the most common fear among human kind. Beyond the misinterpretations of introverts and extroverts, public speaking is a skill with multiple cognitive and affective behaviors besides. The key to overcoming any fear is to understand the adversarial nature of the task. In addition to understanding, public speaking requires recognition of the audience as integral to the process. After all, at its core, public speaking is just communication. Sender and receiver are both vital components.
I have compiled a list of suggestions, keys and recognitions really, that promise to make your public speaking practice more productive. Note the innovations of old clichés. Also, note the realities that you must admit to yourself: Genius and gorgeous because, for some reason, these two are hard to admit that we care about. And, lying to yourself is a sure way to harbor unaddressed anxiety.
Identify your Genius
Genius is the reason you have been afforded the opportunity to speak. You bring something to the table that others do not. If you do not share authentically, the world misses out on your unique contribution. You must redefine you understanding of genius. It is not that you know everything. You only need to know your topic. You don’t even need to know it completely. You just need to be committed to knowing it, to continuing in search of the new. Be the most relentless person in pursuit of your topic. That is genius, incessantly focused and socially syncopate. We get over the socially syncopate part with practice.
Respect Your Gorgeous
Gorgeous is a replacement for the trope “picture the audience naked.” Don’t discount the preparation you put into being presentable. It’s the first thing that people see, and a basis for their initial judgments about your competence. As much as many refuse to admit it, we all judge books by their cover. We welcome similarities and are hesitant when faced with differences. We are intrigued by asymmetry and attracted to symmetry. Your confidence and care is communicated in your gait, your handshake, and your eye contact. You got ready for the event with this in mind. Add it to the list of things that qualify you for this opportunity.
Recognize Their Anxiety
What they’re feeling is anxiety. Most audiences start in a state of anticipation. They are concerned about three things: What would they do if in the same position? What will you say that has value for them? And less consciously for many: Will your presentation make them feel empowered? Resist the inclination to “prove” your competence through presentations of your experience, degrees, and expertise. Audiences, especially ones who do not know you or your work, tend to think that such presentations are arrogant, boastful, and self-serving. It’s the reason that others introduce you and your qualifications. If you said it yourself, the audience may be intimidated and defensive. Neither is a posture of openness to new information.
Calm Their Anxiety
Calm the audience’s anxiety through competence. The more you share your message, the more they feel safety and affirmation. It’s more than sharing your content. There is a method to the madness that is public speaking. Remember these three words: Rhetoric, Homiletics, and Triptych.
Rhetoric is the art of public speaking. It is your intention for the audience. Move them to tears. Motivate them for social justice. Teach them new information. Persuade them to be in favor of your position. Whatever the task, rhetoric is the art.
Homiletics is the art of the delivering sermons. Homily is more about composition. The typical structure is to work within the structure of the human attention span. The rule of thumb is that, though humans can remember 7 things at one time, speeches are best limited to half that or 3 main points. Make sure they are also delivered with the force and emphasis of a homily. That adds a visceral, almost emotional quality to the discourse.
Triptych literally means three folds. In rhetoric, it can refer to the advice given by Aristotle. He suggested that you tell people what you will tell them. Tell them. Then, tell them what you told them. The advice is to let people know what your outline is. Allow them to see that you have a plan. It will instantly put them at ease. It can reflect your homily. It can also emphasize how long your speech will be. So, keep it to a rule of three. Three points, and you are done.
Connect through Your Passion
“I don’t know what he was talking about, but he had a passion for it that was inspiring.” It’s true. Audiences are not always going to know what you are talking about, but that’s not your primary worry. First, your passion will challenge you to communicate the information in ways that are more discernable to people. You will get better the more you present. Second, audiences typically translate passion as a motivator for their own exploration. As you get better at presenting, they get more engaged in your content. In all this, the goal is to identify the transferrable skills that motivate your own exploration of subject matter. Even if the audience has trouble with some of the terms and applications, they can model and appreciate the skilled approach you represent.
Most people have no trouble being honest about their fears. It is time that you are also honest about your abilities, your preparation, your skill, and your passion. I don’t believe that you will ever get over the nervousness that attends a public encounter. But, you can give yourself credit for being ready to cage those butterflies every time.