Nowadays, there’s a term for everything; and when it comes to the fear of public speaking, the term is Glossophobia. According to most surveys, the fear of public speaking is America’s biggest phobia, topping heights and bugs. Approximately three out of every four individuals suffer from Glossophobia, from speech anxiety. While the anxiety is completely normal and something that even the most experienced speakers deal with before each presentation, I’ve found that the nerves can be calmed with the proper preparation and training.
From a marketing and branding perspective, public speaking is a powerful way to share your story and expertise, to build relationships and engage others to help your cause. If you work with a nonprofit, either directly for the organization or as a board member or volunteer, public speaking will be one of your best opportunities to raise awareness and funds; so, the more effective you can become at storytelling in front of larger audiences, the more money you can raise and the more people you can connect to your efforts – the more good you can do! I say storytelling because really that’s what public speaking is – it’s sharing short stories that evoke emotion or offer information and advice.
So, let’s share some tips. First, start with preparation. Know your organization’s history, mission, programs, impact, and contact points. Have some memorized statistics, but more importantly, have packaged stories that you’ve rehearsed and can tell in one to three minute sound bites. Our attention spans are short these days, so keep the stories brief; and make sure they either evoke emotion or share information or lessons learned. People love tips, so make sure to incorporate advice. Also, know your call to action, what impact you want to make or how you want attendees to respond afterward, so you can drive those results from the stage.
Next, do your research and know your audience. Reach out to event coordinators ahead of time and get as much information about the event and attendees as possible. You want to know the overall agenda, the theme or any topical concentrations, and how much time is allocated to you, as the speaker. Then, find out how many attendees are expected, along with their professional levels, backgrounds, and other commonalities, Asking a lot of questions will help you wear the proper attire, steer your content, select the right stories, and make the right “ask” at the end. Also, cover off on the audio visual elements, so you know what format will work best for your presentation (I always use PDFs) and if you will be standing behind a podium versus using a wireless or lapel microphone, which might alter how you dress.
Then, just like sports or anything in life, the rest is practice. Don’t just practice until you get your stories right, practice until you cannot get them wrong. Practice in front of the mirror and tape your presentations with your phone or video camera. As you review your delivery, look for places you can add color with some highs and lows, so you can take the audience on a roller coaster ride, speeding up, slowing down, raising and lowering your voice, and adding dramatic pauses. The more you practice, the better you will get; and before you know it public speaking becomes a valuable part of your efforts and something you truly enjoy.