Swat Those Butterflies
It has many names; glossophobia, communication apprehension, stage fright, having butterflies in the stomach. It has several symptoms; a rapid heartbeat, sweaty palms, a dryness in the mouth and unsteady hands. Most people are familiar with one recent poll or another showing that Americans rank fear of public speaking ahead of fear of death. Find something people are afraid of and you can sell a cure. Unfortunately, many “cures” out there are platitudes peddled by the snake oil salespeople of presentation training. They can actually increase apprehension as well as sabotage other aspects of the presentation. Here are the top five popular gimmicks for calming your nerves followed by three that actually work.
Imagine everyone in the room sitting in his or her underwear.
The results of your imagination could range from highly erotic to downright scary. One thing’s for certain; your mind won’t be on your presentation.
Pick a spot in the back of the room and focus only on it.
Your audience will wonder why you refuse to look at them. Eye contact is essential to create good rapport. Presenters who establish and maintain eye contact are perceived to be more honest and more persuasive.
A little bit of nervousness is good.
You’ve probably heard the saying “It’s okay to have butterflies in your stomach. Just make sure they fly in formation.” Enthusiasm, energy and excitement are good. Nervousness is bad. Nervous symptoms are easily recognized and rarely mistaken for energy. If you’re speaking to a hostile or indifferent audience, a little bit of nervousness is like a little bit of blood around sharks; it only takes a little to start a feeding frenzy. In other words, swat those butterflies!
Use visual aids to channel your nervous energy.
Visuals should be used because they provide a visual reinforcement of your message, not because they provide an outlet for nervous movement. Presenters who use visuals to reduce their communication apprehension turn visual aids into visual distractions.
Memorize your speech, then recite it.
People who memorize tend to think of information as something stored up inside them waiting for release. When they start reciting, they want to dump it out as quickly as possible. Look up “recitation” in the dictionary and you’ll find one meaning is “reading or repeating aloud.” Would you want your presentation to be described as “reading or repeating aloud”?
"To conquer your fear, you have to focus on what caused it. Attack the cause and you diminish the condition.”
When you bring the requisite knowledge to your presentation, you have eliminated one of the major causes of apprehension. Do sufficient research to ensure you are the expert on your topic. Anticipate difficult questions and prepare responses. Another aspect of preparation is practice. You should have rehearsed your presentation three to five times before you deliver it before a live audience. Ask a friend or association to listen in and “red flag” any unfamiliar language or confusing statements. The fewer the surprises, the more in control you’ll be.
Focus on the audience.
Research their needs, their knowledge level, their concerns and their motivations. Tailor your presentation to this unique audience, not some abstract conglomerate of people. Arrive early and mingle with individual audience members. Get to know a few of them. Ask them why they’re attending the presentation and what they hope to gain from it. Refer to some of them by name during the presentation. Remove some of the anonymity and you’ll also remove some of the apprehension.
The perspective you bring to the situation frames your experience. Thoughts of failure often become self-fulfilling prophecies. Instead, picture yourself speaking confidently and accomplishing your purpose. Don’t think about it simply as something to “get over with.” Presentations provide excellent opportunities for business development and networking. When you have developed your presentation skills, you’ll enjoy a competitive edge. Leadership development specialists, business coaches and performance experts all agree: Effective communication skills are essential to achieving growth in any profession. There’s also no doubt that public speaking causes anxiety. You probably won’t be able to eliminate it completely, but if you’re sufficiently prepared, audience-focused and success-oriented, you’ll be able to keep anxiety under control and your career on track.
As the leading authority on the language of influence, Dr. Joseph Sommerville shows professionals how to increase visibility, credibility and sales by creating more persuasive messages. He is the President of Peak Communication Performance (www.peakcp.com), a Houston-based firm working worldwide to help professionals develop skills in strategic communication. Contact him at Sommerville@Peakcp.Com