For years there’s been talk of the famous old poll that indicated Americans fear public speaking even more than death. This led comedian Jerry Seinfeld to make famous his comment that, if true, at a funeral, more people would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy.
Most of us chuckle at this, even at death. Well, in this context anyway. Public speaking can be scary.
The bad news is that the fear will never completely go away. So forget those pricey programs that promise to “eliminate all fear.” The good news is that fear can work to your advantage.
I’d like to propose a different take on the whole quandary of dreading getting up in front of others. It has been my experience that fear can be just as much your friend as it can be your foe. Please let me explain.
Public Speaking is a Performance
I am an actor and voice actor-been doing it since Jr. College. As a result, I noticed right away that the anxieties speakers face are very much similar to the ones actors do. And the techniques to exploit those anxieties are often the same.
At first acting was terrifying. You get up in front of others and you express feelings, react emotionally to others, bear your soul as it were. In essence, you’re being quite vulnerable. But I discovered that after doing this a few times, I was learning to channel all that nervous energy into the performance. Once I crossed that bridge, I discovered a whole new freedom in performing, the freedom to really let those natural adrenaline-charged feelings fly, but in appropriate ways.
In my engagements I remind people that every single time you get in front of an audience, even as a speaker, you’re putting on a performance. The techniques that successful speakers use-whether you’re a speaker, teacher, or preacher-are very much like those employed by actors.
This doesn’t means you should strive to be an actor, unless that’s your goal. Nor should you be phony. But what it does mean is that you should learn some basic concepts about performing. A speaker who feels no fear or anxiety will actually appear boring. No speaker wants to be drab or uninteresting. But that’s exactly how you’ll look and sound if you feel nothing up there. Instead of trying to push that fear away, put it to work!
– Use your voice. On stage, you want to talk loud. Talk louder than you would one on one with someone. Being boisterous with your voice draws attention and gives you authority. This is an excellent “release” of energy. But don’t shout. Speaking quietly is a sure way to fail at staving fear-you’ll only sound timid and that kills your credibility.
– Don’t stand still. If you attempt to remain motionless or “hide” behind the podium, your nervous energy will spill over into distracting quirks like tapping your feet, playing with something in your pocket, rocking back and forth, etc. When making a point, take several steps in one direction and then stop and say it to the audience members near you. Use that energy to move with confidence. Then do it again for another point. Move to emphasize, but don’t just pace back and forth.
– Use your eyes. Some say the eyes are most crucial part of your talk. But the eyes will kill your believability as a speaker if nervousness causes them to flitter back and forth or stare at the ceiling or out the window. Challenge your own tense energy by randomly looking your audience members in the eye for three to five seconds. Focus. Utilizing your fear this way will actually boost your credibility if you can get over the eye contact issue.
– Use gestures. A speaker often thinks his or her little below-the-waist, wrist-flicking gestures are seen and powerful. That’s not the case. Channel your edgy feelings into big and solid gestures to emphasize a point and express personal feelings. This way you won’t just repeat the same little gesture over and over and kill its potency in the process.
The bottom line is that the more you practice channeling energy, the better you’ll get. Feedback, both in video and personal forms will help immensely. Remember, don’t fight fear, but rather route it into your voice, your eyes, your body, all the things that communicate far more than your words do to an audience.
Kelly Libatique is a professional speaker, technical trainer, actor, voice-actor and author. He has a Master’s in Education and a Bachelor’s in Psychology. He resides in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and Anne and two sons.Contact Kelly at: Kelly.Libatique@gmail.com / http://www.Libatique.com