Strategies for Confronting Your Fears when Speaking
It is not unusual to have stage fright. In fact, almost all speakers, even politicians who must speak in front of large crowds and television cameras on an almost daily basis experience some sort of stage fright. However, professional speakers know how to channel their anxiety and use this rush adrenaline to their advantage.
Embrace your subject matter. Instead of thinking about how you are going to compare to the speaker before you or how you are going to be perceived as a speaker, concentrate on your subject matter. Get excited about it. Your enthusiasm will show and your speech will benefit enormously.
Realize that the audience is not your enemy. Get to know your audience before you arrive to deliver your speech. Do your homework. We will devote an entire chapter to this strategy because delivering a good speech is directly proportional to how well you know your audience. Remember that, in virtually all instances, your audience has sought you. They want to hear your speech because you are most likely speaking about a topic that interests them.
Remember that you are the expert. There is a reason why you were chosen to give the speech and not someone else; you are the expert. You know material that you are going to discuss. You might not have every word written down yet, but you instinctively know what you are going to say.
Research your speech. The more you know, the more comfortable you will be. Writing a good speech does not just mean fine tuning it so that it has excellent grammar and style, although both of these considerations are very important. A well written speech is one that has all the elements that your audience is seeking. They may seek information, in which case you must have all the facts. They may seek to be entertained, and that will require research as well, knowing local politics or events is often a treasure trove of humorous material.
The fear of failure is an extremely broad fear. We feel it in almost every aspect of our lives from time to time. Even the most confident people among us have been haunted by the fear of not living up to their own expectations. However, expectations are often too high, and this is the root cause of most people's fear of failure.
Confront your fears. You need to understand your fear fully. What exactly do you think you will do or say incorrectly? Write it down. If you do not know exactly what you are afraid of, use stream-of-consciousness writing, write whatever comes to your mind, and do not worry about what it sounds like. After you have listed all your fears explicitly, examine each one and confront it. Do not let it overcome you. You are in charge. You may be surprised at some of the fears that you have written. Some of them will seem inconsequential after you have made the commitment to overcome them.
The audience does not know most of our fears. We may think that every single person in the room is perfectly aware of every single imperfection in our voice, our pronunciation, our clothes, and so on. However, the absolute truth is that virtually every audience member will have no idea what you fear. Knowing this, and fully understanding it, is one of the most powerful weapons against fear of failure.
Picture yourself succeeding. Another strategy in combating fear of failure is simply to picture yourself in the opposite situation, success. If you firmly believe that you will trip on your way to the podium, you just might! We often have the will to make things happen if we firmly believe in them. So picture yourself in a confident, positive manner.
General Strategies for Combating Stage Fright
Release some of your nervous energy. Exercise each day for a few days before your speech. On the day of your speech, take a walk and clear your mind. Physical activity will certainly help you calm down and channel your energy.
Do not show your hands while speaking. Leave your hands on the podium. There is no reason that people need to see them. If your hands are shaking slightly, you may become more nervous if you think people can see them. For this reason, your notes should also be kept flat on the podium and you should avoid using a hand held microphone. However, audience members do not typically perceive nervous body language to the extent that speakers think they do.
Breathe! Yes, breathing is important! Fast, shallow breathing will only make the adrenaline rush worsen. Take deep, slow breaths, and do not breathe through your mouth. Breathe through your nose in a slow, controlled manner.
Speak slowly. Especially if you are a first time speaker, remember to speak slowly. In fact, what you may think is speaking far too slowly is probably the right tempo. We tend to speak far too fast when we are nervous.
Characteristics of Effective Communication
Communication is not simply a one-dimensional process of someone speaking. Effective communication involves four distinct parts, sender, message, receiver, and feedback. The sender and receiver are straightforward concepts, but the message, which is the information that the sender is attempting to convey, involves several components.
We have often heard, and most likely used, the expression "I got the message." Having your audience "get" the message is, of course, the goal of every speech. However, the message is not merely comprised of words. When we speak, whether it is to a friend or to a room full of people, we are imparting a message using context. The context of your words will have an enormous impact on how your audience receives your message. If you compliment your boss when you see her one morning, she might be very flattered and graciously accept your compliment. However, if you were to compliment her as she was about to begin giving you your annual performance evaluation, she might be somewhat suspicious of your intentions. You could have used the exact words for each of these two scenarios, but the context in which they are said will have a profound effect on the receiver's understanding of the message.
Communication is comprised of symbols as well as words. A large and innovative furniture company has stores in many countries around the world. In an effort to save on costs and streamline their operations, all of their instruction sheets use symbols only, not a single word. There is a saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words." We are apt to say, that it is certainly true. We all know that a smile is a universal symbol of happiness. No words need to be spoken in order to deliver the message that you are happy and content.
Feedback is an important component of effective communication, and it depends greatly on the type of communication being used. There are five main types of communication: intrapersonal, interpersonal, small group, public, and mass communication. Let us look at public communication specifically. In public communication, you typically receive less feedback than you would in a one-on-one interpersonal conversation, or less than a small group conversation. However, feedback is still an important consideration when delivering a speech.
The feedback process for public speaking can be divided into three periods: the pre-speech, the presentation, and the post-speech period. In the pre-speech period, you are writing your speech with the feedback of your audience in mind. This is why knowing your audience is such an important component of effective communication. During the presentation, you should be able to make slight adjustments based on the feedback, however limited, that you receive. Applause and other audible signs from the audience will give you the feedback you need to make adjustments. During the post-speech period, a speaker will evaluate the body language of the audience, and might even invite questions and comments from the audience. If the speaker is a professional public speaker, they will consider this feedback an extremely vital part of their profession.
There are no short cuts in preparation. If you do not do the appropriate level of research, both of your topic and, most certainly, of the audience, you will not be able to deliver your message. You might be able to deliver words, but the point of effective communication is the delivering your message. You must do your homework to get your facts and have a clear understanding of who will be listening to your speech.
The art, and it is an art, of using language in a highly skilled manner is a key component in effective communication. Yes, people will notice if you make a gaffe in your language. If a politician, for example, mispronounces the name of a local town, his language will get in the way of the message. Moreover, language is more than just pronunciation. Having a robust vocabulary is a vital ingredient in effective speech writing, as well as understanding the context of the speech. You want the audience to think that you can "speak their language."
If you seek to be a motivational speaker, you will especially want to be able to conjure up pictures in your audience's mind. The use of descriptive language will help you to connect with your audience, and they will hear more than words; they will be able to picture exactly what you are saying.
Preparation is vital, but having spontaneity is also important. You do not want your audience to think that you are simply reading from a well prepared and well rehearsed script.
Writers will often say that reading makes them better writers. The same concept applies to motivational and public speakers. You must be able to effectively listen to other people's view and accept their feedback graciously. A professional public speaker will always incorporate this feedback in their profession.
Finally, self-confidence is a vital part of effective communication, and it is a trait that can be learned. Sometimes a carefully worded phrase will impart to the audience that you are confident in what you are saying, and a poorly worded one will have the opposite effect. You should never, for example, acknowledge to an audience that you feel nervous or unprepared. Some people who lack self-confidence try to gain empathy from the audience by admitting their nervousness. Ironically, this will immediately make you feel even more self-conscious and can have a detrimental effect.
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