Dealing with public-speaking jitters


By Chris Gandy

It is rare when coaching CEO’s of cause-based organisations that the need for public speaking, and the resultant angst, isn’t raised. Actually more than one person has confided that knowing they will be asked to speak publicly about their organisation caused them to think twice about actually applying for the position in the first place.

Of course this concern is aired by many, many others. As Jerry Seinfeld, so famously put it:

“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

This state of fear even has a name – Glossophobia and is now rated the No 1 global fear!

Why is it so?

Part of the problem, in my view, is that we are focusing on the “public speaking” part. In actual fact very few of us have problems speaking.  In our daily lives we talk to family, friends, colleagues and complete strangers on a minute by minute basis. This isn’t the issue.

Rather, the root cause of the jitters is that we are on show and are worried that we are being evaluated, judged or rated by our peers. As a result we stew over whether people are mentally scoring the presentation, my personality, facial expressions, appearance etc.!

You’re not afraid of speaking, you’re afraid of not meeting expectations, of being judged, of making a goose of yourself!

Understanding what is causing the problem can help in developing effective strategies to deal with it and here are some that you may find helpful:

It is not all about you!

Get your mind off yourself and think about your audience. They came to hear you speak because they want to. They’re interested in what you have to say, what you can show them, the information you can share and your thoughts and opinions on the subject. They willingly volunteered their time because they feel listening to you is valuable and important. None of them have score-cards in their pockets or handbags itching to hold them aloft when you have completed your double pike with a twist. In actual fact they are willing you to be successful so that they can get as much out of the experience as possible.

Get all over your subject

The jitters start ratcheting up when we begin to ask ourselves – “What if someone asks me about such and such that I don’t know anything about”?  “What if they ask me to explain the facts and figures behind our results”? “What if they ask how this program really works”?

Worrying about these sorts of questions saps our confidence and sows seeds of doubt. The best way to overcome this is to know your stuff inside and out. When you think about it this isn’t hard to do particularly when you are talking about your organisation!

Stick to your script.

Watch our politicians – most are masters at this. On occasions you may be blindsided by a question from left field. If you don’t know the answer say so and that that you will see that person after the presentation or respond at a later date – and keep your commitment. The key is not let these distractions effect your rhythm, stay on point.

Nothing succeeds like success

The easiest way to get over your public-speaking jitters is to just do it. The ground isn’t going to open up and swallow you. The audience won’t throw things at you nor get up and walk out. OK you may not be perfect but who is?

Remember too, as Seinfeld pointed out, that “most people” would rather die than give a speech – and “most people” are actually sitting in your audience. So the odds are that rather than judging you they are actually thinking – “Gee I couldn’t do what she is doing”!  You’re a success for even attempting to have a go.

What are your suggestions for overcoming public speaking jitters?

About the author – Chris Gandy is a Director of Cause and Effective , providers of Coaching, Consulting, Facilitation and Executive Transition Services to cause-based organisations.

About B-Cause

B-Cause is published by Cause and Effective. We help good causes find and attract effective leaders.

Thats our take on things. Over to you, please add to the discussion.

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