Public Speaking is really a amazing thing. Public speaking is a common source of stress for everyone. Many of us would like to avoid this problem entirely, but this is hard to do. Whether we work alone or with large numbers of people, eventually we will need to speak in public to get certain tasks accomplished. And if we want to be leaders or achieve anything meaningful in our lives, we will often need to speak to groups, large and small, to be successful.
The truth about public speaking, however, is IT DOES NOT HAVE TO BE STRESSFUL! If you correctly understand the hidden causes of public speaking stress, and if you keep just a few key principles in mind, speaking in public will soon become an invigorating and satisfying experience for you.
1–Speaking in Public is NOT Inherently Stressful
Most of us believe parts of life are inherently stressful. In fact, most of us have been taught to believe that life as a whole is very stressful!
To deal with any type of stress effectively, you first must understand that life itself, including public speaking, is NOT inherently stressful. Thousands of human beings have learned to speak in front of groups with little or no stress at all. Many of these people were initially terrified to speak in public. Their knees would shake, their voices would tremble, their thoughts would become jumbled . . . you know the rest. Yet they learned to eliminate their fear of public speaking completely.
2–You Don’t have to be Brilliant or Perfect to Succeed
Many of us have observed public speakers and thought to ourselves “Wow, I could never be that smart, calm, witty, entertaining, polished . . . or whatever.” Well, I’ve got news for you– you don’t have to be brilliant, witty, or perfect to succeed. That is not what public speaking is all about. I know it may look that way, but it’s not. You can be average. You can be below average. You can make mistakes, get tongue-tied, or forget whole segments of your talk. You can even tell no jokes at all and still be successful.
It all depends on how you, and your audience, define “success.” Believe me, your audience doesn’t expect perfection. I used to think most audiences did, but I was wrong! Before I discovered this, I used to put incredible pressure on myself to deliver a perfect performance. I worked for days to prepare a talk. I stayed up nights worrying about making mistakes. I spent hours and hours rehearsing what I was going to say. And you know what? All this did was make me even more anxious! The more perfect I tried to be, the worse I did! It was all very disheartening (not to mention unnecessary).
The essence of public speaking is this: give your audience something of value. That’s all there is to it. If people in your audience walk away with something (anything) of value, they will consider you a success. If they walk away feeling better about themselves, feeling better about some job they have to do, they will consider you a success. If they walk away feeling happy or entertained, they will consider their time with you worthwhile.
3–All You Need is Two or Three Main Points
You don’t have to deliver mountains of facts or details to give your audience what they truly want. Many studies have shown that people remember very few of the facts or information speakers convey. While you may choose to include lots of facts and information, you only need to make two or three main points to have your talk be successful. You can even have your whole talk be about only one key point, if you wish.
When I first began speaking in public during medical school (kicking, screaming, and quivering all the way), I wasn’t aware of this simple principle. I wrongly believed that my audience wanted encyclopedic knowledge from me, which of course I didn’t have. So I tried to research my topic thoroughly and deliver as much worldly wisdom as possible.
Boy was that exhausting! It was also boring for my audience to suffer through.
Later, when I began giving public seminars on how to cope with stress, I spent hours each week typing a twenty-page script to read from, so I wouldn’t forget any important tidbit.
4–You also Need a Purpose That is Right for the Task
This principle is very important . . . so please listen up. One big mistake people make when they speak in public is they have the wrong purpose in mind. Often, they have no specific purpose in mind, but the one that is operating within them unconsciously causes a whole lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety.
This is a prime example of what I call a “hidden cause” of public speaking stress. When I first started speaking in public, I thought my purpose was to get everyone in the audience to approve of me. I mistakenly thought that this was what good public speakers try to do. I wasn’t consciously aware of this purpose, nor how foolish it was, but it was there nonetheless.
Because of this hidden purpose, I felt I needed to be absolutely perfect and brilliant to win my audience’s unanimous approval. If just one person in the audience disapproved . . . my goose was cooked! If one person left early, if anyone fell asleep, or if someone looked uninterested in what I was saying . . . I was defeated!
This was very anxiety-producing.
Later, after I became aware of this stress-producing purpose, I was able to look at it honestly and realize how foolish it was. How many public speakers get 100% approval from their audiences? The answer is zero!
The truth about public speaking is no matter how good a job you do . . . someone is going to disapprove of either you or your argument. That is just human nature. In a large group of people, there will always be a diversity of opinions, judgements, and reactions. Some will be positive, others will be negative.
There is no rhyme or reason to it. If you do a lousy job, some people will sympathize with you and feel for you, while others will critique you harshly. If you do a fantastic job, someone will resent your ability and might disapprove of you on that basis alone. Some people will leave early because of an emergency. Some will fall asleep because they were up all night taking care of a sick child. Therefore, it’s foolish and unrealistic to attempt to get everyone in your audience to think well of you.
More importantly, it’s the wrong type of purpose to adopt in the first place.
Remember, the essence of public speaking is to give your audience something of value. The operative word here is GIVE not GET! The purpose of public speaking is not for you to get something (approval, fame, respect, sales, clients, etc.) from your audience. It is to give something useful to your audience
5–The Best Way to Succeed is Not to consider Yourself a Public Speaker!
While it may seem paradoxical, the best way to succeed as a public speaker is not to consider yourself a public speaker at all.
Many of us have distorted, exaggerated views of what successful public speakers do. We often assume that to be successful ourselves, we must strive very hard to bring forth certain idealistic qualities we presently lack.
Consequently, we struggle desperately to emulate those personal characteristics of other speakers which we wrongly believe are responsible for their public speaking success.
In other words, we try to become someone other than ourselves! We try to be a public speaker, whatever that image means to us.
The truth about public speaking is that most successful speakers got that way by doing just the opposite! They didn’t try to be like somebody else. They just gave themselves permission to be themselves in front of other people. And much to their surprise, they discovered how much fun they could have doing something most other people dread.
The secret, then, to their success is that they didn’t try to become public speakers!
You and I can do the very same thing. No matter what type of person we are, or what skills and talents we possess, we can stand up in front of others and fully be ourselves.
I now love to speak in public. Why? Because it’s one of the few times I give myself permission to fully be myself in the presence of others. I can be bold, compassionate, silly, informative, helpful, witty . . . anything I want. I can tell jokes, which I don’t normally do, tell humorous or poignant stories, or do anything else that feels natural in the moment.
By Morton C. Orman