Glossophobia is the technical term for a fear of public speaking, and as you might expect, it’s a commonly held fear.
It can be so debilitating that a survey earlier this year revealed one in three Britons would even reject their dream job if it included public speaking.
And yet we know that communicating our ideas and presenting solutions to a problem is part of what it takes to be successful in our jobs. Not conquering such fears can leave you less likely to take the risks which are core to personal and professional development.
In the era of the TED Talk, public speaking has become a major cultural phenomenon, inspiring millions to watch a multitude of speakers from all backgrounds. This has made public speaking far more accessible and interesting – and raised the bar in the process.
Guardian columnist Francis Ryan used to be glossophobic. Writing about how she overcame her fears, Francis forced herself out of her comfort zone by accepting a part-time teaching job and then gradually building on her experience as her career developed. She writes: “It isn’t that my nerves have gone away, but I no longer see myself as someone unable to do it.”
So, what are we afraid of?
When we’re asked to present or make a speech, we experience several emotions as we plan our approach; these might include fear, shyness and lack of confidence. At the root of all these feelings is a complete focus on ourselves and how we will appear in front of our audience. ‘I lack confidence’ might mean ‘I’m afraid of appearing less than an expert in front of my peers’ and ‘I’m frightened of public speaking’ could hide, ‘I’m scared of making a fool of myself in front of others’. When we analyse these feelings objectively, they all lead to one factor: our vanity is the biggest barrier to presenting. But good presenters do not serve themselves, they instead think about how they are serving their audience. It’s this fundamental switch of mindset that needs to happen first.
“The most powerful presenters think not “how will I look” but rather “How can I make this the most interesting and relevant experience for the audience”.
In our presentation skills training we put the 3 Ps of presentation at the heart of our course – preparation, persuasion and performance. Understand them and the next time you’re asked to present you’ll feel ready to deliver the outstanding content and connect with your audience.
Whether you’re asked to say something publicly with a few moments’ notice or deliver a major presentation to the whole company, a key element is preparation of your key points.
Remember, your presentation has to resonate with your audience, so take time to ask the question: what’s in it for them? Make sure you’re sharing information that’s going to engage them – but it has to remain genuine, and not be so biased to the audience that it becomes misleading. Using numbers helps–1 for emphasis, 2 for comparison, 3 for completeness and 4 for a list.
And remember: whether Powerpoint or speech, don’t save the best to last. Audience attention does not last as long as you might hope.
So, you know what you’re going to be talking about, how do you make it persuasive? Some of this lies in winning the trust of your audience. Lose that, and not even the best content will help. You only have to recall the times you’ve seen a comedian or speaker “die” on stage to recognise the irrevocable damage of losing your audience.
Demonstrate that you understand the audience by delivering a presentation relevant to their world. The most memorable speakers use a storytelling approach, peppered with anecdotes and examples of past experiences. Not only will these help identify the ‘what’s in it for me?’ element of your content but they will also give you credibility in your topic area.
It’s your big day… you’ve prepared and practised your presentation. Now it’s your turn to perform.
Your audience will take their cues from how you use your voice, body language and eye contact. Psychologist Albert Mehrabian’s classic 1964 study of non-verbal communication breaks down communication as follows:
- 7% of the audience’s liking for the communicator is from what is actually said
- 38% is from pitch, tone and pace of voice
- 55% is from body language
So, the way you speak and the way you hold yourself are key ingredients. Be sure to bring your audience along with you by maintaining eye contact using the lighthouse technique where you regularly sweep the room to check your audience is involved. If you know your topic, questions should not be feared, but rather seen as opportunities for you to develop and clarify your subject – and they show levels of engagement in the room.
And don’t forget that statistic about glossophobia; since most of the people in the room will be glad they’re not up there, they will generally be rooting for you from the off – so try to enjoy it!
If you’d like to know how to make your next presentation stand out, then find out more about our presentation skills course here.