Your success in business will be influenced by your ability to speak well– to tell your story to interviewers, to present recommendations to a client, to express your ideas to your team members, or to pitch your product to investors. Speaking in public, whether with a small group or a large audience, develops your critical thinking, leadership and persuasion skills, and professionalism.
Despite the opportunities that come with presenting, nearly everyone experiences some anxiety associated with public speaking. Our fears have been heightened by speaking in online meetings and virtual events. Online anxiety is exacerbated by the lack of direct eye contact and every fumble to find the unmute button. Social anxiety compounds speech anxiety.
This short Jerry Seinfeld clip explains the extent of our number one fear.
(Direct link to Seinfeld Clip)
In his YouTube video, “Why do we fear public speaking?“, Dave Guin tells us that we are biologically engineered to be scared. Through a story about early humans facing a prehistoric bear in a cave, he compares the fear of public speaking to the fear of the unknown. Every one of us, in our common humanity, Guin says, is afraid of the unknown and of public speaking. To manage this fear of speaking, Guin says we must desensitize ourselves. By practicing and putting ourselves forward, we reduce our fear. For many university students, however, it is not the prehistoric bear Guin describes that prompts a flight response: It is their peers and professors.
As university students, you are in a unique position. You are planning to enter or grow your current position in a professional context but your classroom training is among social peers. Remember, though, that nearly everyone in the course shares this same fear. You may not overcome your instinctive fear, but you can manage it. Your professors may need to evaluate your performance but they are also there to help you succeed. Everyone wants to see you do well.
One way to deal with your fear is to turn the attention away from how you feel and toward how the audience feels. When you watch a speaker who is anxious and fumbling with the clicker, shifting weight from one hip to another, pacing quickly, or taking a lengthy pause or filling time with excessive “ums” and “uhs”, you begin to feel anxious yourself. As a member of the audience, you may feel concerned for the speaker and shift from listening to the content to focusing on the body movements. Audiences reflect the speaker’s feelings. If you speak with confidence in an interview, you are more likely to inspire the audience to feel confident in your abilities. If you are enthusiastic about your new business plan, investors will be more likely to become enthused themselves. Emotions are contagious.
To share a positive presence with your audience, find your confidence. Caroline Goyder’s TEDx Talk offers three techniques to access the confidence within us. Watch her 19-minute presentation.
To manage your anxiety, remember that your fear response is natural and normal, focus on your audience’s needs, and use the confidence within you. The following sections will introduce additional ways to manage anxiety, including organizing the content of your presentation and practicing the vocal techniques and body movements that you will use in your delivery.