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Published:June 21st, 2006 05:00 EST
Stepping Over the Fear of Public Speaking

Stepping Over the Fear of Public Speaking

By Carolyn Porter, D. Div. (Mentor/Columnist)

According to many people and various surveys, public speaking is the number one fear in our society, even more than death. Why is this so? Many of those same people have no problem talking up a storm with a group around the conference table or at a party, but ask them to stand in front of a group and their immediate response is a hefty no. "

I understand this fear well, for if anyone had told me years ago that I would one day become a public speaker I would have begun shaking at the mere thought. I had always shrunk from the spotlight, and speaking in front of a group was beyond my limited comprehension at that time. But as my life progressed, and various experiences and teachers showed up, I felt the nudging to get out there with my message. I fought it for months until I couldn`t stand the restlessness anymore and took a speaking training class.

I remember that day as if it was yesterday. I arrived trembling with cold hands and feet and a rapid pulse. Twice I almost left, but something kept me there-- probably the thought of all the money I`d be wasting if I didn`t stay. As I got up to present my first two-minute talk, my body was trembling so much my clothes were visibly shaking! The instructor actually stood nearby during that first presentation in case he had to catch me since he feared I might faint. But I did it, and by the end of the two-day training I was no longer visibly shaking, and the experience wasn`t so painful. Now, I speak all the time and the fear has been overcome.

So what exactly is fear? Fear is simply False Evidence Appearing Real. It is something imagined by your mind to be true but, in actuality, is isn`t true--- unless you make it your truth. It appears to be real but is only a figment of your imagination. And I can tell you that I felt every bit of the fear on that day when I presented my first talk in that speaking training I attended. You see, my thoughts were continually on the self-imposed belief that standing in front of an audience would be terrifying. By thinking those thoughts, I actually created the fear into physical form. This is how all of life is. You create from your thoughts every moment of every day. What shows up for you is exactly what is in your mind, conscious or unconscious.

Over the months that followed my introduction to public speaking, I thought about why I was so afraid and why others are also afraid. Here`s what I realized.

When in front of an audience the speaker is on display. Everyone is watching him/her and if the speaker is insecure within, then fear is the result. Most individuals feel inadequate about themselves, not realizing their own greatness. As a result, they don`t feel good or confident enough to be presenting anything to anyone. As I began to understand my own greatness over the months following my speaking training, my confidence soared. Part of it was, of course, just doing it; but in order for the fear to leave for good I had to do some inner work of realizing my inborn worth.

So, basically, people don`t want to be revealed. Standing in front of a group and sharing from the heart can be scary if you`re afraid of what the audience will see about you inside. Since many individuals avoid looking inside at themselves, they certainly don`t want others to see anything either.

Another fear is that you`ll show up as incompetent. Perhaps you`ll forget what you wanted to share or say something dumb, or what if you lost your place and fumbled with your words? Maybe the audience will be bored and not listen to you. What if someone asks you a question and you don`t know what to answer?

I have actually created a speaking training in which I train a small group of individuals over a weekend to rise above this fear of speaking so they can become all they are meant to be. It can also be done individually with a coach. Public speaking is actually the most powerful tool you can ever acquire for any profession or business endeavor. Being able to share what you know and feel is invaluable when it comes to creating what you want.

So here are 10 tips for rising above your fear of public speaking so you can become more of your potential. I promise you that if I can do it, so can you!

Realize the audience is simply human, as you are. They are there to hear what you have to say and have no agenda that says you are not good enough. In most cases they are there because they want to be.

*Within the first 10 seconds they have sized you up and decided many things about you. They`ve checked out your attire, your hair style, whether or not your lipstick matches your outfit, your overall appearance, and if you show confidence or not. Know that once they`ve looked you over they are ready to listen, so you can relax.

*Rehearse your material over and over. I`ve read many times that 75% of the fear goes away with much rehearsing. I know from my own experience that preparation does make it easier. However, do not memorize your entire talk. Know the beginning and end well and let the rest flow from your heart.

*Take some notes with you. This helps to boost your confidence and there is no reason you cannot glance at your notes if necessary. I often use a brief outline with highlighted words or phrases for easy sighting. Sometimes note cards with key words will do the trick. Don`t read your notes as that depicts lack of preparation and will definitely turn off the audience interest fast.

*Use visuals such as a handout, eraser board, or items to show. This puts the attention of the audience on those rather than you, or at least it seems that way to you, and usually enhances your talk since visuals reinforce.

*Never, never, never say you are nervous or acknowledge your fear in any way. That puts up an immediate barrier with the audience and will deflate any confidence you have gathered together to present your talk.

*Pick a subject to talk about that you know a lot about or that interests you. Don`t try to fake it and present on something that is foreign to you unless you do your research and learn about it. The audience will find see through you.

*Give the audience some new information. By nature people want to leave from a presentation with new information that can benefit their life. Give them some benefits.

*Be a story-teller. It has been said that the best speakers are story-tellers because most individual enjoy hearing the stories. You can use stories about yourself " that helps the audience relate well to you " but use stories of others as well. Use emotion in them too: humor, sadness, happiness, mystery, surprise.

*Of all the tips I can give you from my research and own experience, I have found that sharing from your heart always works. An audience wants to feel your sincerity and genuineness. To me and those I train, this is key. Anything less than truth cannot ever survive! Truth is from the heart.

Of course there are other tips that can benefit you speaking in front of any audience, but these mentioned above have proven effective and fear-reducing for many, and are the consensus of many great speakers. Begin with a couple of these and add as you can, continually seeking to improve and grow. You can do it. I believe in you!

Carolyn Porter, D. Div.
Empower Productions, Inc.