It is not a myth that speaking to a group is one of the greatest human fears. Speak to any group and a significant number will have suffered Glossophobia, as psychologists call it. Even those who have spoken to groups confidently in the past may find that with a different group they will suffer dry mouth, breathlessness, blushing, sweating, mind blanks or myriad of other debilitating symptoms. While preparation certainly helps, even the best-prepared speakers can sometimes be afflicted. So, what can you do?
Experience has shown that much of this anxiety is based on false beliefs – myths that have grown up around public speaking – and busting these myths can be the key to success.
Myth One – If I leave something out, I’ve failed
There is a mistaken belief that the audience cares about what you left out. They will be confused if you’ve omitted a key step or a significant point; but having the presentation delivered exactly as it was prepared is only important to you.
The main danger is that your desire to get it right can override your ability to engage your audience. It is a waste of time ‘getting it right’ if they’re not listening. Stop worrying about leaving something out.
Myth Two – If I’m good, they’ll listen from start to finish
We all hope for complete attention and we write our presentations founded on this hope. The reality is that very few will listen to everything you say. They are effectively ‘channel switching’ between what you’re saying and their own attitude or experience. This internalising is essential for engagement but it compromises attention and retention. You need to compensate for this with strong recurring theme(s) and repetition to make sure they can follow when they ‘switch back on’.
Myth Three – More stuff makes me more interesting
We load up our presentations with interesting stuff that turns it from a speech into a data-dump. Most presentations can be improved by taking out non-essential information. Identify the key information and bring it alive with examples, illustrations, word pictures and stories.
Myth Four – I must not lose my way or have my mind go blank
Momentary memory lapses are common in speaking – even for full-time professionals. Put your key points into a train of thought that you can refer to if you lose your way. Put any important names or phrases in your notes and highlight them so you can find them at any time. Most of the time the audience won’t even notice that you have checked your notes; and if they do it doesn’t matter. This is not a memory test – your ability to remember your presentation has nothing to do with your credibility in front of the audience.
Myth Five – I’m not good enough to talk about this
It’s called ‘Imposter Syndrome’ and all speakers suffer it at some time. You think you must be an expert on a subject to have the right to talk about it. If there’s someone else in the room who might know more about this then they should be up speaking. Sure, you need to be familiar with your subject and/or have some experience in an area to allow you to share – but forget the ‘expert’ tag. Even if everyone in the room knows your subject, you come with a unique perspective and a different focus that makes this worthwhile