Making or preparing a speech is one of the biggest of all fears for many people. In surveys, people regularly place it high up on the list of their greatest fears, up there just below dying! Fear of public speaking is widely regarded as one of the most terrifying things a person can ever do.
Why is this?
Lots of reasons. One of the most obvious is that most of us don’t have to speak in public very often, if at all, and so we never really have the opportunity to get used to it. Consequently, a fear of public speaking is quite understandable. We tend not to develop effective communication skills, and we just naturally assume that we haven’t got any! The truth is, we’re all effective communicators – we prove it every day of our lives – we just don’t do it in public very often.
Another reason is that when we think of making a speech we tend to see everything going wrong – instead of preparing a speech, we imagine we’ll dry up and be unable to make any sense, or even be unable to speak at all. Now that is a terrifying thought! We actually see ourselves being a victim of performance anxiety. All that’s really happening is we’re letting our imagination run wild. The imagination, which we try to develop to even higher levels so that we can enjoy advanced memory skills, can operate against us … if we let it!
Speaking in public puts us right in the spotlight (maybe literally). Everyone is watching! It’s that feeling of vulnerability that makes it so frightening. If we slip up and make a mistake, everyone will see! And what if we just plain forget what we’re talking about? What a mess! Could it even get any worse??
Okay, enough! Stop!!
This is what goes on inside your head when you think about making a speech … imagined fears that spring up and develop and seem to grow and multiply. It’s all out of proportion. Is it any wonder you get scared? All this negative self-talk would have a seasoned politician quivering in his boots.
So the first thing to do is stop it! All of it! Just calm down and get a grip!
Now … take a deep breath, hold it … and let it out s-l-o-w-l-y … and relax …
There … isn’t that better? 🙂
Quick reality check
Okay, now let’s have a quick review of the reasons why public speaking is so terrifying … but without the hysteria this time, eh?
- I might fluff my lines and everyone will see
- I might totally lose my train of thought
- I’ll feel so vulnerable
er … that’s about it … I kinda thought there was more but … er, no … hang on, let me check … no, that’s it … yeah, that’s it really.
What will really happen
Okay, let’s have a closer look at these things … and here’s what might actually happen:
- I might mess up … and if I do, guess what … I can always get back up on the horse, so to speak.
- I might forget what I was going to say … hey, with effective memory techniques, that’s easily fixed, right?
- I’ll feel vulnerable … yeah, like everyone else who ever made a speech … hardly a unique situation!
How to prepare your speech
First, know your audience. Will it be formal, or more relaxed? Will it be in a business setting? Is it a wedding, or some similar occasion? Each one of these calls for a different approach, but as long as you have an idea what you’re facing, no problem. And that’s the attitude you need to have … no problem!
Next, get to grips with your subject matter. You need to know what you’re going to say. Pretty obvious, yeah? But that’s where a lot of people slip up – they only have a vague idea what they should be saying, so is it really a surprise when things go wrong?
So, get your subject matter, make a proper study of it, and then write it down, in your own words. Big headings for each section. Then reduce each section to the barest minimum, so that you only have a phrase or a sentence for each one.
Rinse and repeat!
Now it’s starting to look a bit better! Just a list of single words, or maybe short phrases. Each one means something to you now … it reminds you of the section, or paragraph, and what it’s all about. And remember, keep each section to one single idea.
Keep it simple!
Do you see where we’re going with this now? Simplifying everything, so there’s hardly anything left to go wrong. Because when it’s complicated, that’s when things can go wrong. As long as you keep it simple, it’s painting by numbers!
Let’s take a look at an example. Let’s say you have to give a business presentation about a new product for your company. You’ve been given a 78-page file filled with specifications, market research results, packaging details, distribution schedule, etc, etc, etc. And you feel like it’s so complicated it’s impossible to get it all together. You just know it’s going to be a disaster!
Luckily, you’ve got a week to get it right.
[Note: if you’ve been given less than a week, you’re working for a company that doesn’t deserve you. Look around for something better!]
First, spend some time studying the file. Immerse yourself in it. Since this is a business presentation, learn all there is to know about the product. Get to know it better than the designers. Then produce your own potted version of the file, with much reduced details of the product, the market research, the packaging, distribution, etc.
If you do a good job on this, you’ll have a single page at the end of it. And that page will have single words on it, just a list of single words. And all you have to do now is remember that list. Even you can do that, right?
[Note: if you haven’t got it down to a single page at this stage, you haven’t finished the simplification and reduction process!]
How can single words tell the whole story?
They can’t, obviously. But each one can, and will, tell you all you need to know. They are only markers, signposts to show you the way and keep you on track. And as long as you can see the signposts, and as long as you know what they mean, you’re home and dry.
Now, to complete your preparation, you just need to come up with a memory journey, and place the words, or their image equivalent, along the journey, at key points. If you do this properly, and rehearse it, you’ll be able to easily remember the list. No problem!
Remember, it’s counter-productive to focus on what might go wrong, and far better to focus on preparing a speech that will entertain your audience, inform them, and maybe even give them one or two laughs.
You’ll want to show off!
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