Tag Archives: Presentation skills

What if You Could Love Public Speaking?

More and more, I’m in love with public speaking! I’m ardent about it. I’m a missionary, a true believer.

I know not everyone feels the way I do, but I am also a firm believer in possibility, that you can come to love it. It’s something I see every day with clients, which is so gratifying.

Here is why so many people shy away from it: They feel they have the expertise and the deep knowledge. They have worked hard for years to hone their message. As a result, they feel audiences and listeners should be “smart” enough to see past any presentational deficits. They tend to regard delivery technique as fluff, surface, soft. But mastery in speaking and presentation is anything but.  

To put it bluntly, public speaking or presenting is an essential, professional skill. It is the delivery vehicle for all your content and your message. And once a professional attains even a modicum of leadership responsibility, it is no longer optional. You know I speak the truth because when you observe people who are great at it, you admire them. We all do.

Here’s a quick story that illustrates why you might want to learn to love public speaking and presenting…

Like all of us, you attend industry conferences. During these often multi-day events, there are concurrent breakout sessions. Attendees look at the program guide and select which breakout they think they’ll get the most out of. And they just hope and pray the presenter won’t bore them to death. Too often, however, they do. They stand behind the lectern, reading from slides that are too packed and disorganized for anyone to see clearly. Their heads are down. They don’t tell stories to make their data come alive. They don’t connect.

Honestly, when I go to a breakout where I’m unfamiliar with the speaker, I sit in a location where I can make a quick escape. My feeling is my time is so precious that if the speaker didn’t care enough to engage me, I’ll find someone who will. It breaks my heart when this happens, when I see people deserting the room because it’s very demoralizing for the speaker and I know things could’ve been different.

Occasionally, too rarely, however, the speaker blows you away. They are funny, engaging, they command the platform and their slides are bold, graphic, and clever. They tell stories. They reveal a little about themselves. They connect. You like it so much in fact that you patiently stand in line to meet that speaker, exchange business cards, be in that person’s sphere, maybe even buy something.

It continues afterward. At the conference, you observe others approaching that speaker. That person, whom you had never heard of before, has become a type of star, a celebrity.

But it doesn’t end there. After the conference ends and everyone returns to their offices all over the country and, more commonly these days, the world, they are talking about that speaker, linking in with him or her, referring the person to other, more prestigious public speaking venues where – let me be very clear – that speaker has an opportunity to connect with an entirely new group of potential clients and referral base. What an efficient way to connect and build a personal brand!

Do you think that speaker is ardent about public speaking? You betcha. Did he or she always love it? Probably not, but the benefits and rewards have become too clear to ignore.

Now, as I always say, it’s work. It takes time, practice, dedication. It’s just a matter of getting the support and coaching you need. That could be Toastmasters, a small group program offered by a qualified coach, or private coaching.

It’s no fun to be forced to do something for work that is painful. We all have a list of must-dos that we dislike or even hate. Public speaking should not be one of them. Better to become so good, and reap the unparalleled benefits, that you, too, fall in love with public speaking.

Stage Fright Can Be Cured

Every year or so I am reminded, usually by a client or prospect, to teach about stage fright.

This time, it was a prospect who told me she was so terrified of any type of public appearance it was significantly hindering her progress as a highly successful venture capitalist. She’d raised millions and because she was doing some truly groundbreaking work, she was being asked to speak at major forums – you know… the kind of speaking opportunities most of us only dream of – but she was turning them down. It had suddenly morphed into a big problem and she knew it. Kudos to her because sometimes people are so scared, they don’t even investigate solutions.

In my long and deep experience, I’ve found there are two types of stage fright. There’s the type most people get when they have to stand up before a group and the stakes are high. That’s about 95% of my clients. Then there’s the type where the fear and anxiety are so great, it might be considered clinical.

The good news is there are solutions for both.

Let’s start with the first type of stage fright, the one that’s felt by most people.

You know how it goes… you have a speaking engagement or an important meeting to lead where the stakes are high. Could be that the room is filled with potential buyers of your product or service or maybe your CEO is attending your meeting. These things are enough for even the supremely confident to feel their hearts race, palms sweat, and voices waver. Experienced presenters will feel it too. The difference for them, however, is they will have practiced and prepared enough so those “fight or flight” feelings are manageable. They stay under control. In fact, in the best scenario, they are intense for only a few minutes at the outset, then they dissipate and the speaker relaxes into the “zone.”

Too often, however, speakers don’t prepare well enough and that’s a recipe for failure. In fact, it’s the biggest obstacle my busy clients face. Practicing is tedious and boring and there is always something more interesting to do. So, before they engage me, I’m very clear about what I expect because I know if they don’t practice, they won’t succeed and that’s not good for either of us.

When you’ve practiced enough and the right way, you are able to deal with all the inevitable things that go wrong, you’re able to stay on track. You’re even able to have some fun.

Practice alone is the cure for this group of stage fright sufferers.

The second type of stage fright needs something extra. As mentioned earlier, these are the people who are suffering so terribly they avoid any situation that might exacerbate it. They’ll turn down awesome speaking engagements, they won’t volunteer to lead any meetings, they won’t even call someone like me. They’ve always felt this way and have come to accept the false premise that there isn’t any help out there for them.

But there is… medication. You may have even read about world-class musicians taking what’s become known as the “stage fright drug” before an important audition. I’m not a doctor and I don’t diagnose or prescribe, but I have learned when to suggest to a client this might be a solution and they should pay a visit to their doctor. The medication I’m referring to is known as a beta-blocker. Beta-blockers inhibit the adrenaline response and are typically prescribed for people will high blood pressure and other conditions. These patients take them regularly.

People who need them for stage fright, however, take them only when needed. I’ve see these drugs work miracles. Clients have thanked me profusely for bringing it to their attention. I am just so happy not to see people suffer needlessly. There is a caveat: a small percentage of people are ineligible for these meds. That’s why you have to see your doctor. And if you’re one of the few who has to do without, there are still workarounds.

By the way, this group still has to practice, by the way, just like group one. All those same  principles and techniques apply. But you have to be able to get to the point of accepting a gig where practice is required and that’s what this allows.

So the cure for stage fright is either practice or practice + a little extra help in the form of the stage fright drug.

What Sir Richard Branson and I Have in Common

There was a great article in Forbes by Sir Richard Branson. The most interesting thing about it was his admission that he hates making speeches, because he gets nervous. Still, he has to deliver a lot of them and, thus, recognized early on that if he were going to become a success, he’d better learn to get good at it. (By the way, I’ve had the good fortune to spend time on his beautiful Necker Island.)

One of the nuggets I picked up had to do with his early conditioning around speaking.

As a schoolboy, he was forced to present a memorized speech and was “gonged” if he stumbled. How horrible! That would certainly make me want to go and hide. My own story centers around how shy and introverted I was and how any type of imperfection was magnified out of proportion in my own mind. By the way, that is my personality still today and I’ve had to make an uneasy peace with it.

The fact is many of us have had some humiliating thing happen when we stand before a group and speak. Perhaps it happened as a child, or perhaps it has been more recent. It’s difficult to get back in the saddle after that.

Branson did because he knew that without the ability to comfortably pitch investors, speak to boards, present to clients, and defend his brand, he’d be out of business instead of becoming the celebrity CEO he is today. Even though he says he still doesn’t enjoy it, he does it, and he gets past his jitters with one tried and true technique: practice.

All my clients hear this from me repeatedly, and it’s how I’ve been able to build and sustain my own business. Practice is the only way to attain mastery of this essential, professional skill. And when I say practice, I mean saying it out loud innumerable times until, as Branson says, “you are even hearing the phrases in your dreams.”

You might never look forward to speaking, you might still become nervous (Branson and I do), but you’ll nail it and reap the benefits very few do.