Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The ABC's of Public Speaking - C is for Confidence

Most executives I talk to are confused about the role of public speaking in their career. While they are "Captains of Industry" in the board room, they are sometimes secretly scared of addressing a large audience. Therefore I am covering the topic of speaking this month on the blog.

C is for Confidence

I have heard it said that the number one fear that people have is public speaking. Death is number two. Otherwise powerful business executives harbor fears of standing on the stage in front of a large audience to pontificate. Because of this fear they either avoid the opportunities, or worse, they stand up and deliver substandard presentations while being limited by their trepidations.

Anytime you are asked to speak you should be confident. Meeting planners and others make the request for you to address their audiences because they see you as the expert in your industry. If you were not competent on the topic, you would not be the one they approach to be the speaker or participate on a panel. This should be at the core of your confidence.

If you are not up to speed on the issue to be discussed, you should NEVER accept the speaking gig. Try to fake it in front of a group and you will be seen as a fraud.

If you are knowledgeable on the subject, then you have to get past your performance anxiety in regards to the speech itself. Everyone has butterflies in their stomach when they take center stage. It is normal to want to protect your reputation and your ego desires the approval of others. A little concern is not the opposite of confidence, but can and will co-exist. The only way to get over these natural feelings of doubt is through experience.

If you have not spoken many time in front of an audience, there is no magic pill that will give you the poise that you will get from speaking on multiple occasions. Therefore you should begin early in your career to look for speaking opportunities so that you can fine tune your oratory skills, and thus develop a natural confidence. Only repetition can give you this real assurance.

I have discovered that twenty presentations seems to be the number when fear subsides for most people. Purchase a notebook and record the details of your next 20 talks. Note the organization, locations, size of audience, topic and any other key observations about your delivery and the reactions of the audience. If possible capture yourself on video and review it a few days after it was recorded. By gathering all the details and viewing them afterward, you will begin to see you body of presentations as a whole confidence building tool.

If you are lacking in confidence, take a minute to imagine the worst thing that could happen during a presentation. You could fall off the stage. Your shoe could break (I saw this happen to a woman who was presenting in front of 2000 people). You could be horribly boring or say something embarrassing. etc.... Once you know what is the "worst", make sure you take precautions to not let those things happen.

After the worst things you can imagine is out of the way, nothing else is all that bad. Just go and deliver the presentation that you prepared for (lack of preparation is also a cause of fear, but I am assuming you are going to be prepared!).

If you are feeling alone in developing confidence as a speaker, hire a coach or join a Toastmasters Club. Practicing your speaking is as important as practicing your golf swing or any other learned skill. Once you have developed your abilities, your confidence will expand.

Have A Great Day.



Speeches said...

Nice observation! There is no doubt that confidence is an essential criterion for public speaking. Practicing your speech in private is also a good idea for increasing your confidence.

James T. Parsons said...

Hey Thom,

Kirk Watson is a great example of confidence, and how to handle bad things that happen when speaking. He was at the Philanthropy Day event a number of years ago, and the notes he was provided stated the award was for the prior year, and someone in the audience took it upon themselves to "correct" him - saying it was for the current year. Rather than being rattled, he made a joke of it ("that is what the notes said...") and moved on.

Turns out later on someone else noted that his original statement was correct - the award (though given in January of one year) was for the prior year's deeds. He then made a joke out of that - saying he was right. He never got rattled, either time, he didn't get pissy, either time, he just laughed it off and moved on.

Man, if we all could speak like Kirk Watson publicly.