Public speaking is often one of the most reported fears among people. Even people who graduate with degrees in language arts, who learn about reading, writing, listening, and speaking, they too struggle when it comes to giving presentations and the public arts in general. What is crazy about all of this is that public speaking might be one of the simplest fears to break, and it all starts by realizing that there is nothing innate about the public arts and that they are a learned skill. Although people will have different starting points, there is no limit as to how much a person can develop.
Private speaking. Public speaking.
In terms of speaking, there is no distinction between the act itself, whether speaking in privateor speaking in public. The only difference between the two is that public speaking tends to have larger audiences comprised of people who are strangers, but who are there to listen to the speaker and ultimately judge them on their presentation. The idea of getting judged by large groups of people is what leads to the phobia of public speaking, but that might be the best thing about this challenge since there are a finite number of criteria when it comes to getting judged on public speaking. Every individual knows exactly which criteria contributes to their personal fear of public speaking, or they can come to identify them after carefully assessing their situation. More often than not, those fears come down to how a person sounds, how they look, and what happens if they experience a brain freeze or get stumped by an unexpected situation.
Understand your concerns. Frame the challenge.
What makes “performance anxiety” a positive starting point is that it is actually a positive emotion that indicates that a person wants to do a great job. The appropriate way to make the most out of that emotion is by preparing and through repetition. Knowing the material is by far the most important part of any presentation. Simply put, nothing soothes the mind more prior to a big presentation than a person being prepared and knowing they did everything they could to put themselves in a position to do well. When it comes to how a person sounds or looks, both of those challenges can be addressed by recording oneself and watching the recording, then making necessary changes. When it comes to experiencing a brain freeze or something unexpected happening, just remember that having notes is a must, that everyone uses them, and that the best way to get back on track is by glancing over the notes and continuing from the last point.
Perhaps the greatest thing about our brains is that each person possesses the ability to create context around their actions, for the purpose of having their brain make sense of things, and it might be the cheat code to solving the fear of public speaking. Whichever specific criteria on which a person may be afraid of getting judged, when it comes to public speaking almost all of the criteria could be generally lumped under the “performance anxiety” category. Once that concern has been understood and identified as being a person wanting to do a great job, this is where context comes becomes important. By creating a positive context around public speaking, it begins the process of enabling a person to overcome an otherwise irrational fear by rationalizing it. Aside from having to get acquainted with what initially might be an unfamiliar experience and unsettling feeling, overcoming these fears is as simple as breaking down the problem to its most basic level and going from there.
Verbal language. Non-verbal language.
What someone says is nowhere near as important as how they say it, according to Albert Mehrabian’s research on verbal and non-verbal communication. Further to the point, Mehrabian’s research suggests that less than 10% of what gets communicated is what is said and that closer to 40% of communication comes by the tone of voice, and that over 50% is the result of body language. The majority of communication coming by the way of body language should not intimidate anyone, because things like a person’s stance, posture, positioning, and expressions can all be learned, and body language is often largely influenced by pre-adulthood socialization. At their most basic, both verbal and non-verbal language come down to unlearning bad tendencies and replacing them with better tendencies. It might sound complicated, but it can be as simple as Ivan Pavlov’s classical conditioning, where a person conditions themselves toward a desired endpoint.
The book, Words Like Loaded Pistols – Rhetoric From Aristotle to Obama, also does a great job going over the public arts and it has a perfect description about connecting with an audience and the power of tone. The book’s author describes the ideal orator as a person in whom eloquence was the conduit of true feeling and good intention. Additionally, the author states how when it came to speaking and pace, slowing it down is the way to go and that that the ideal talking speed is one that is around 110 words per minute, a shade slower than the average conversation. But perhaps the best piece of advice might come from the title, that people should never be afraid to copy someone who is doing the right thing and that it might be the most important thing to do when it comes to getting better.