They say that man’s greatest fear is public speaking and that his second greatest fear is dying. According to Jerry Seinfield that means, "that most people at a funeral would rather be in the coffin than give the eulogy!"
To my knowledge no one has died from public speaking. Your hands may sweat, your voice may quiver, your heart may be pounding in your cheeks, and, you may have vomited before going on stage; but rest assured, public speaking will not kill you!
Are your fears of standing in front of an audience justified? If you’re not prepared, then you have every reason to be ‘scared to death.’
Part of the fear of addressing an audience is the unknown. For many of us that is what is so thrilling about public speaking; for most, however, that is what is so unsettling. Admittedly, you do not know what will happen as you stand at the lectern which is why your preparation is critical to your success.
Of the thousands of people with whom I’ve worked, it never ceases to amaze me how many come to their class, their session, or their workshop unprepared. A guarantee for failure on the podium or at the head of the boardroom table is not knowing your material.
What that means is to practice your speech or your presentation out loud many times. Reading over your material to yourself is not practice because the flow of your words, while understandable in written form, may not sound as good out loud. You must practice just like the musician, the actor, the athlete, or the presidential candidate.
In regards to public speaking, this is called a rehearsal. Too many people look to squeeze in a few minutes to go over their script and I disagree. You should set aside time each day to practice and stick to your schedule. No matter how tight your agenda, do not cancel your rehearsal. Treat it just as importantly as you would treat a meeting with your boss or a potential client because it is. Your success in that speech or that presentation speaks volumes about you and your abilities. One of your most important goals in public speaking is to sell yourself as an expert in your topic or your field. And that can only happen with practice.
If you have the ability to video-record yourself, by all means do so. In playing it back, analyze what you like about your delivery and what you don’t like. What needs work? Video-recording is one of the best tools that I use in training others. By watching yourself, it will be easier to improve that which needs work.
That does not mean that you must record yourself each time you practice; but, it also doesn’t mean waiting until the last moment either. How you look and sound to others is something you cannot appreciate until you see yourself on video and is similar to hearing your voice on your voicemail, generally not a pleasant experience! It also would be a good idea to have someone listen to you during a couple of those rehearsals if at all possible.
While you cannot know exactly what will happen during your speech or presentation, being prepared is the best defense for the unexpected and is part of every successful delivery.
My advice? Practice; practice; and more practice.
The Voice lady Nancy Daniels is President of Voice Dynamic and Self Growth’s Official Guide to Public Speaking. Holding private, corporate and group workshops in voice and presentation skills, she also offers Voicing It!, the only video training program on voice improvement.
For more information on nervousness and public speaking, click this link to watch an 8-minute presentation on The 5 Characteristics of Dynamic Public Speakers.