I’m not one for New Year resolutions, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see some kind of resolution on public speaking on quite a few peoples lists.
A YouGov survey in 2014 showed the fear of public speaking sitting in a very narrow third place on the list of the UK’s top fears. Only heights and snakes topped it, but by less than the height of a snakes belly from the ground.
Understandably, for many people the prospect of exposing yourself (not literally, though that irrational thought seems to creep in) hits “fear central” for many of us.
Not me though, I’m the equivalent of all those snake handlers and fearless heights junkies when it comes to public speaking of any kind – I love it.
Sales presentations, classrooms, conferences, 2 people or 200 people it isn’t a problem. I don’t profess to be the best speaker in the world, but I’d put myself in the “not bad” category for sure.
What is interesting to me is that many people fear the whole process of standing up in front of a group of others and talking. Yet sometimes those same people, in a group of friends, will have no qualms holding court, often being witty, funny and entertaining.
Even those people that don’t even speak in a group of friends tell a fantastic story when one-on-one. Put an audience in front of them, or ask them to make the ‘speech’ on a formal occasion however and they go to pieces.
Public speaking is considered by so many to be an art form in itself. Some of the worlds great orators past and present such as Winston Churchill and Steve Jobs are considered ‘other worldly’ because of the quality and polish of their public speaking skills. However, it is possible for anyone to become a good speaker, I should know.
I probably got the kind of introduction to public speaking that many others would’ve loved.
From a very early age my mum (a teacher) was keen on me learning the art of speaking to an audience, purely I should add, as a way of getting me past my shyness. So I quickly found my “skills” being offered on all kinds of occassions, with all kinds of audiences – it was a ground
However, it probably wasn’t until my Sixth Form and University days that I began to gain confidence in public speaking skills. I’d often volunteer to be the person who did the presentation or make the announcement. Though I did find this was frequently because I just wanted to keep the lesson / event moving and hated the kind of ‘no you, no you’ conversation that followed a request of ‘Can I have a volunteer to go first’.
Public Speaking doesn’t have to be a nightmare though. Here’s my quick 3 B’s of public speaking:
Your brain is a wonderful thing. The creativity contained within it is amazing, well it is for nearly all moments apart from the public speaking moment. Even before you’ve stood up your brain has switched into maximum “negative imagination” mode and you’re running through hundreds of scenarios of what might go wrong. Fly’s down, fainting, falling over, accidentally swearing…to be honest its a wonder you’re still sat there. Sound familiar? It doesn’t need to be like this, it just requires a couple of basic techniques and you can overcome it.
1. Be in the moment, you’ve practised so even if you think you can’t remember it you can. Concentrate on what you want to say…it quietens the brain’s more ‘creative’ thoughts.
2. Re-frame it, concentrate on one thing – what is the 1 message you want to give your audience. Maybe even visualise a fabulous reaction at the end of your speech, concentrate on how delightful and fun it will be to share the knowledge you have.
Get your brain working for you when you’re public speaking and you’re onto a winner.
Your body and posture can make an instant difference to your speech. Imagine an invisible piece of string running up your spine and out of the top of your head and give it an imaginary tug. You’ll feel your head up, shoulders relax and a straight back. Not only does this give you an added air of authority to your audience, it will instantly make you feel confident.
The old adage which is so true with public speaking is look confident, feel confident and you will be confident – it’s a great way to trick that mind of yours.
Now isn’t the time to slouch in your seat or cower away, head up, shoulders back (and relaxed) and you’re already winning!
The human body cannot survive without oxygen for more than 3 minutes, yet in our haste to rattle through our speech we seem to forget that. Breathing not only keeps you alive (seriously listen to me people), it also helps in two major ways.
Firstly maintaining your breathing at a regular rate will slowly calm you down and counteract the adrenalin that will be shooting through you as you prepare to speak. It helps to give your conscious mind something else to concentrate on too (further distraction from the ‘creative’ thinking). Secondly, if you’ve practised your speech correctly you’ll have your natural breaks/breathing breaks. Adding these gives your speech a fantastic flow allowing you to emphasise points and gives the whole thing a more natural rhythm. It also gives your audience a chance to take in the speech without worrying for your health as you rattle through without taking a breath.
Three simple points, (and by no means the complete picture) but three very effective B’s to remember the next time you are speaking in public.
Simon Brooke is a Director and creative thinker at Happy Creative, a strategic marketing and creative branding agency based in Blackpool, Lancashire. To learn more or contact us please go to www.happy-creative.co.uk or @Happy_Creative
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