Monday, 17 October 2011

Public Speaking 101 . . . Fight or Flight?

What is fear?
Fear is an emotion that is pre-programmed into all animals and people as an instinctual response to potential danger causing certain physical reactions as:  rapid heart rate, increased blood pressure, tightening of muscles, dilation of the pupils and increased sweating.   

Yet a small amount of fear before an important speech serves a purpose – it encourages you to focus on your topic and avoid making a fool of yourself. This is one of the types of fear that can be useful to sharpen our minds.
It took 16 years to write Diary of a Vet's Wife, Loving and Living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, while working full-time. Not once did the reality enter my mind, I would someday have to stand in front of an audience and tell my story !!!

I think I'd rather jump out of an airplane. And I'm scared of heights. Though I'd probably change my mind once I was standing on the threshold, the wind rushing past me, while I gazed upon trails of ant-sized cars below.

Research indicates that at some point I will be expected to TALK about my book . . . in person. Yeh Gads! Even the thought of this is terrifying!  I decided to take a public speaking class in preparation . . .

"According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two? Does that sound right? "      -Jerry Seinfeld

Three weeks ago, I attended my first Public Speaking class at a nearby church. I figured this was a safe place to start. It was a pleasant group of approximately 25 people whose desire was to gain confidence. We wore name tags and were handed an olive-green booklet entitled Fearless Speaking - Public Speaking - Beginner Class. The evening consisted of a dry-run of what would be expected from each of us. I listened attentively. It seemed simple enough, and definitely doable.

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the next two classes due to prior commitments . . .

"The human brain starts working the moment you are born and never stops until you stand up to speak in public."     - George Jessel

On Thursday evening, I attended my 2nd public speaking class . . . it was everyone else's 4th class. A big difference I came to learn. My facilitator took me to the sign-in table for my nametag and a copy of the AGENDA for the evening. It was then I saw MY NAME. . . ! I was scheduled to be a "puzzlee." Is this even a word? I must confess I never took time, in my crazy schedule, to read the olive-green booklet, or I would have known what a puzzelee was.

     "What am I suppose to do?" I asked, without a clue.
     "Don't worry, it will be easy," she said, turning to speak to someone else.

As it turned out . . . there was the puzzler, who asked a question at random. The puzzlee was to answer this question. I was called to the podium, asked a question, then handed the microphone like in a Miss America Pagent, except I was missing the gorgeous gown. You talk about pressure! I had never held a microphone before, a chrome cage on a handle. Heavy and daunting. A few inappropriate uhhs and ahhs slipped out, before I started talking about the first thing that came into my head. All I wanted to do was hurry up and go back to my seat.

     "We can't hear you," my facilitator called from six rows back. "Please hold the microphone closer to your mouth."

My brain scrambled to remember where I was. I kept going. My heart pounded in my ears. I was close to tears at one point. Finally, I was done. I escaped back to my seat. People clapped. To be honest, I remembered very little of what I said.

"Speech is power: speech is to persuade, to convert, to compel."     - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Public speaking fear - Edward Hope, editor and publisher of The Art of Great Conversation . . .

The fear of public speaking is common to most people around the world.  It is very often one of the top three fears of people in surveys. And the reasons for this are simple:
  • Fear of the unknown - new situations can be frightening
  • Fear of rejection - the feeling your efforts may be criticised
  • Fear of failure or making a mistake

Listed are 7 techniques to overcome the anxiety:
  1. Emerson's quote, "Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain."
  2. Have an attitude that says, "I'm giving them my best. I hope that's good enough . . . "
  3. Mentally play down the importance of the speech. Who is going to remember it in a hundred years?
  4. Learn to grin at your audience and go right on speaking when you make a mistake. People will forget the mistake and remember the grin.
  5. Talk about something you really know. Something you know from your heart, not through memorization.
  6. Practice your speech. Either on your own or with someone - know your subject intimately, and practice as often as you can.
  7. Visualize delivering your speech successfully, as often as possible with intensity and passion.
This week, I'm assigned to be an Introducer . . . which I will definitely review in the olive-green booklet. I plan to practice as often as possible . . . into the wee hours of the morning, if necessary, in order to never experience that feeling of helplessness again!

Does anyone have a sure cure for this . . . other than imagining everyone naked?

Lessons learned . . . my two cents

Man's mind - once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.     - Oliver Wendell Holmes


  1. Just remember, if you can - everybody's got their own problems, and they generally just don't think about US that much.

    That Tip 3 that you listed - not that they won't remember in 100 years, they won't remember in 100 minutes.

    If someone bobbles a speech in front of you - how long did you think about it? On to the next thing, I bet.

    Seriously, unless you're on national TV, and you lapse into beautyqueenspeak like that poor teenager who will live on in YouTube forever, any mistakes you make, people *might* laugh for a moment, then on to the next thing. (Do we need milk?)

    You could even steal from Robin Williams and the other comedians, "Sorry, rented lips!" or some other one-liner if you happen to bobble.

  2. Beverly - Your coaching and wisdom gave levity to my nightmare. Thank you for this perspective. I'll remember your words as I move forward, knowing my speech is insignificant in the scheme of things. All I must remember is . . . "It's no big deal," I'll be fine. LOL

  3. Nancy,
    You did it! in my counseling practice, I see many people overcome their fears by doing the things they feared! And it only takes a couple of times until the fear dissipates. Hang in there, I promise, it gets better! If you handled living with PTSD, you can handle anything!
    Jodi Aman

  4. I know exactly how you feel, Nancy. I've had the same experience. What I did, was to force myself in front of audiences, as a singer (which I found was easier) and as a PhD student who had to present research on a pretty regular basis. I still don't like public speaking but I'm more willing to do it now.

  5. Jodi - Your encouraging words as a professional give me hope . . . light at the end of the tunnel. Thanks you. It really seems silly after what I've been through. I know. That's why I plan to do what I must to get over this hill, though right at this minute "it's" sitting on my shoulder grinning. LOL

  6. Nancy - A singer as well, a woman of many talents. I envy you, I couldn't sing in a paper bag. I've read chapters of my book aloud in my writing/publishing class. But when one is sitting, reading from a paper in their lap, the worse thing that happens is their hand shakes. Talking to an audience is a LITTLE different. But I know this too shall pass. I must continue to push forward. Thanks, Nancy, for the pep talk! LOL

  7. I absolutely loathe public speaking! I canNOT read my own writing aloud. Absolutely not.

    I've heard singing is one of the hardest things to do also, but I find I can sing in front of an audience easier than I can give a speech in front of them.

    However, one can but strive to become better. :)

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  9. Cat - So happy you stopped by!! Welcome back. Another singer, how blessed you are . . .

    My GREATEST DISCOVERY, when it comes to reading my book, is a HAND-HELD RECORDER! Have used one for years. Actually, had to buy another one yesterday, mine wore out! It's superb for revising. Then if I read aloud in class, I know my words flow "like imported honey" and I'm not tripping over my tongue. I wrote about it in either my 2nd or 3rd post, LESSON LEARNED. It's critical to my writing!! Though I don't use it on my blog.

    Will be using it all day to practice my
    INTRODUCTION for tonight's speech class, UGH!:D