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Thursday
Apr172014

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking and Be a Great Presenter

For most people, public speaking is not a naturally-comforting skill we possess. We've heard advice from imagining our audiences naked/in their underwear, to practicing our speech over and over until we're confident about what we're trying to say. "Master the content, master your fear," right? Wrong!

I don't know about you, but imagining myself as the only clothed keynote speaker at a nudist convention, or mind-numbingly taking all the passion out of my speech by over-rehearsing it... well... neither has ever made me a better speaker. But after trying a technique that Jane Porter talks about in her story of an experience Kevin Allison once had, I've felt my skills and comfort growing much faster.

In her story, she talks about Kevin giving a monologue that he practiced and practiced, but forgot after his first paragraph. He went to leave, but because of the support of his audience, they encouraged him to try it again, guiding him back to the stage. It was then that he went up there and began talking to them like he would talk to anyone else - one-on-one. He stopped seeing his stage-time as a monologue, and began to see it as a conversation... and in general conversation, we don't feel the same pressure as we would in a monologue.

Think about it: if you were randomly pulled up from the audience to stand on stage at a convention, totally unexpectedly, and the speaker started asking you questions, you would likely be able to answer every single question they asked you, right? Sure, you might be nervous to be up there, but you'd deliver on all the content expected of you. Like all skills worth learning, it takes practice and awareness; awareness of what the problem is and the awareness that comes from advice on how to solve it.

Storytell. Have a conversation. Do you ever come home and share an entire story about something that happened to you that day - near-verbatim conversation and all? That's because we think in stories. Stories link events and ideas in our heads. Tell a story and you'll find your content is easier to remember. In grade school, when straight-facts were streamed at you, did you remember them all? Did you have a ton of fun in those classes, or was it more stressful? Now think about your favourite teacher: what qualities did they possess? Often they told stories and were funny - humour, of course, being an entertaining glue that links one thing to the next and makes us wait for what comes after.

So how do we do this? Where should we start? According to Porter, we should start at the end. Think of what you want to say, lead up to, and end on. Think "What do I want the audience to take with them?" and then build your story backwards from there.

How do I keep my story interesting? In short and in general, the interestingness of your story is dependent on your ability to exude emotion. Joy, fear, nervousness, frustration, excitement - a strong emotion, or variety thereof, will make your story relatable and memorable. The more people relate, the easier it is for them to remember. It also helps your audience stay interested. Use your emotional high points and low points as turning points in your story, and the rest will all fall into place.

Lastly, speak how you speak, not how you write. For most people, they way we write is much more formal than we speak. If you don't know how you speak, try recording yourself and then transfer to paper instead of the other way around. It can be awkward hearing ourselves speak at first, but it has a few perks. One, you simply talk out what you want to say, and then you have a rough draft before you know it without getting slowed down by the technicalities and details. Two, you become your own audience - you may trail off, tune out - but what do you remember? Those moments will help you choose your key points, and filter out the boring and the irrelevant.

So simply by having a conversation, exposing your emotional recollections, and speaking unlike how you write, you will find your public speaking skills and comfort growing faster than ever. 

 

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