Business Perspectives

The art of overcoming our greatest fear — speaking before an audience

Ray Hull
Ray Hull Courtesy photo

Nearly everyone at one time or another is asked to stand before an audience and say a few words, perhaps to give a presentation on a new product, a new method of service delivery, or the reorganization of your place of business. The fear can be awful.

What if what I say doesn’t make sense? What if I stand before the audience and freeze, and I can’t talk? What if I look foolish?

The fear can go on and on. In fact, research has shown that greater than the fear of heights, bugs and snakes, drowning, falling from a great height, flying or ghosts is the fear of speaking in public.

Remember, the stage or meeting room is your canvas. What you do with it is up to you. You can “wow” your audience by creating a masterpiece, or you can put them to sleep. Which do you choose?

It isn’t necessary to create a masterpiece. But, we can create something that is acceptable, something that is good, and something that is liked. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

I have given well over 800 presentations at conferences and conventions over the past 20 years. Occasionally, I am asked to give three or four presentations over a two day period. The most I have given involves three different one-hour presentations during a consecutive three-hour period. By the third hour and the third presentation, I have to do my best to bring myself up and say with enthusiasm, “It is GREAT to be here!” and mean it!

So, we must prepare ourselves to feel comfortable in front of an audience. That means placing ourselves in front of an audience whether we want to or not because we said we would! We don’t have to be an entertainer. So, we look for other ways to practice our stage presence and speaking ability.

There are always other ways — other outlets. That means finding avenues for practice in speaking before an audience. They can include:

▪  Giving announcements at meetings

▪  Reading scripture at church

▪  Giving the treasurer’s report for the organization to which you belong

▪  Volunteering to introduce the guest speaker at your monthly meetings

▪  Moving up the presentation ladder by giving a brief presentation at your next business meeting.

There are many ways through which we can develop confidence in the arena of public speaking. Toastmasters clubs are a wonderful way to practice public speaking in a supportive environment.

Confident presenters take charge. They look poised. They sound prepared. Their goal is simply to persuade, influence, or inform.

What does it take?

Enthusiasm. Confident presenters exude enthusiasm. If the presenter doesn’t look and sound enthusiastic about her or his topic, why should anyone else be enthusiastic about it?

Confident presenters also do everything in their power to engage each member of the audience. Look at the audience and make eye contact individually with as many people as you can.

Ray H. Hull is a professor of communication sciences and disorders at Wichita State University. His new book with Jim Stovall is "The Art of Learning and Self-Development: Your Competitive Edge."

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