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Public speaking skills aren’t necessarily on the top of most people’s personal and professional development list. In fact, many people will tell you quite plainly that they would rather learn to become a lion tamer than to speak in public. For some people the very thought of standing to present their ideas and have an audience’s full attention for a few minutes can fill them with dread.

As we all know only too well, we don’t even have to do the thing we fear most to feel the anxiety. Unfortunately it’s readily available to us all through the simple avenue of thought. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to us that public speaking has always been one of the top sources of anxiety across the world.

After all:

Most of us weren’t taught the skill at school, college or university.

Most of us aren’t event taught the skill at work; we are just expected to be good at it.

Many of us were told that ‘children should be seen and not heard’ when we were growing up.

Nobody relishes the idea of being judged and, let’s face it, when you are presenting your audience are judging you whether you like it or not.

We still remember the first time we raised our hand to answer a question at school only to get it wrong. That feeling of shame and embarrassment has longevity of its own.

So why should I overcome my fear and develop my public speaking skills?

Aside from the fact that you have a job and are highly likely to be called upon to present your thoughts and ideas, at some stage there are some other good reasons:

  • Once you’ve learned to manage the anxiety it does wonders for your personal confidence and self-esteem.
  • It gives you the opportunity and platform to be heard and make a difference.
  • It can make an enormous difference to your career and how quickly you progress.
  • Your voice and your ability to express yourself effectively can affect every area of your life, not just your career.

So how do you do it?

1. Look for purpose rather than personal pain

Rather than investing so much time and effort focusing on all the bad stuff switch your attention to why you are speaking in the first place.

Find the purpose in your message and devote all of your energy to the difference you can make to your audience. If you can’t make a difference then you are right to feel anxious and would serve them better by simply sending them an email instead.

Many business presentations are designed simply to impart knowledge or information which of course is quite normal. The problem is that most people can read and sadly many presentations are read to the audience. They could just have easily read the presentation for themselves at the comfort of their own desks.

At Mindful Presenter we believe your purpose revolves around finding and committing yourself to an ‘M point’. Your ‘M point’ is your moment of truth; in other words what is it you want your audience to think, feel and do when you finish speaking.

If you don’t have a purpose that is much greater than simply ‘informing’ them you will undoubtedly feel pain and they will feel it a great deal more.

Find your M point and focus on it at the exclusion of all other distractions.

2. Get some stabilisers

Remember when you were a small child and you first learned to ride a bike? You didn’t just leap onto the bike and speed off into the sunset. You needed a couple of coaches. Your first coach was probably that extra pair of wheels in the form of stabilisers, but your greatest coach was the person who picked you up each time you fell off the bicycle. They dusted you down, gave you some pointers, set you on your way again and each time you fell they repeated the cycle. They encouraged and supported you, told you where you were going wrong and gave you that crucial guidance which steered you in the right direction.

Each time you thought you wouldn’t make it they reassured you that you would. When you couldn’t work out why something was going wrong they explained why. When you needed them to just hold onto you for a while they were always there.

When you first learned to read, you had a coach.

When you learned drive, you had a coach.

When you think back, everything you learned how to do someone taught you how to do it.

I don’t remember that working with my first kiss though; that was a challenge.

3. Don’t be a sheep

We all know that sheep have what appears as an instinct to follow the other sheep in front of them. Unfortunately it seems as though many professionals have developed a similar sheep instinct in following the people they have seen present before them.

Thirty years ago that may have worked but today it’s a recipe for mediocrity and potential disaster. Not only do many people dread the thought of giving presentations, a great number of us are just as unexcited about attending them. So many business presentations are the same today that we really don’t look forward to turning up.

The reason for it is that sadly even human beings as an incredibly gifted and talented species have a tendency to adopt the sheep mentality. We’ve seen our boss present and believe that it must have worked for them to get them to where they are so we follow in their footsteps.

It no longer works.

Today we have to dare to be different, challenge the status quo and stand out from the crowd.

The best way that we know of today is to:

Craft mindfully

Prepare thoroughly

Practice thoroughly

Have a clear objective

Have a clear intention – how you want them to feel

Open with impact

Tell them stories

Get to the point quickly

Lighten up

Use contrast

Build drama

Build slides that look like bill boards

Stay on message

Make it about your audience, not yourself.

Make them feel something

Image: Courtesy of flickr.com