Public speaking minus the fear
Tips on how to overcome your fears so you can make your point and speak with confidence and clarity.
Afraid of speaking in public? One tip is to give a practice speech to friends and family. (Chicago Tribune file photo by Antonio Perez)
"We are all born with the ability to light up a room, but often the panic that comes with speaking in front of people prevents us from being clear in our communication," said Peter Meyers, co-author of "As We Speak: How to Make Your Point and Have It Stick" (Atria Books). "We see it in babies and dogs because they have this innate presence that is fearless and totally genuine. But gradually over time, we develop adaptive ways of covering our fear. The strategies we develop for looking good and guarding ourselves become layers that prevent us from being able to talk in front of others and takes away our confidence."
"There is scientific evidence that shows if we move the muscles in a way that you would when you feel joyful, literally making the face of being happy, you create those emotions in your body," he said. "And we talk to ourselves more than we talk to other people. The thoughts that we have running through are brain are critical. If you are thinking 'I can't do this. They won't listen to me,' your body will shut down. You will have a hard time breathing, and you will feel faint. Connect to your core beliefs — those things that excite you and pull you forward, 'I have something to offer here. This will benefit them.'"
And Meyers said louder is not necessarily better.
"There was a time when the clobbering confidence was considered cool," he said. "You can be generous with your voice rather than project it. You will be heard by everyone if you focus on the words you are saying. Take deep full breaths and the voice will carry."
Here are more of Meyers' tips for getting your point across.
Speak to one. "Whether you have a few people in the room or a thousand, direct your focus to one person at a time," he said. "It calms you down when you speak to one person. It tells your body, 'This is one person. I've done this before.' "
Extend the vowels. "If you don't extend your vowels as you speak, you will only hear the consonants and that takes the emotion out of your words," he said. "If you really make a point to ride the vowels, you can be soft and still heard in the back row. This conveys confidence and creates intimacy."
Don't open with a joke. "If you do and it fails, you will spend the next 45 minutes scratching your way back to credibility," he said. "Plus, if it's been told before and they've heard it they will suspect everything else you have to offer is day-old bread. When people open with a joke that is irrelevant, the implied message is, 'Please like me.' And that's a turn off."
Rehearse. "Get three people from your team and your family and test drive what you plan to say with them," he said. "I have been doing this all my life and I never do a presentation without a rehearsal. You want different feedback from different people. Ask them to be constructive with their criticism as well. Rather than saying, 'Your body is doing weird things,' it would be more helpful if they said, 'Open your arms more.'"
Get personal. "Great speakers create a personal bond with their audience," he said. "You need to convey emotion. People are drowning in data but starved for feeling and emotion. If you start off with a list of numbers and facts they will forget the data but they will never forget how they felt."