Sunday, September 29, 2019

May I Have Your Attention?

by Charlotte Bennardo

Who doesn't remember having to stand in front of the class to give a report? First it was Show and Tell, then a book report, and later, maybe reading or speaking on a subject chosen for us. For some, it's a terror, a nightmare. Some kids actually got stomach aches. My son panicked every time.

But thankfully he got through it.

I was never fond of public speaking. In fact, all through elementary and high school, I was shy. (You'd laugh if you know me now.) How did I get over the fear of public speaking? Not by parents telling me I'd do fine, or teachers telling me it's 50% of my grade, or friends saying 'Just do it.' Those are ways to confirm a child's fear of public speaking and it doesn't magically go away simply because you're an adult.

There are many strategies for conquering this fear; imagine the audience sitting there in their underwear. Focus on one or two people in the audience that look friendly. Practice in front of a mirror, then your family and friends. Take a public speaking class.

Photo courtesy of ICSA, Pexels

I've done them all. Didn't like any of them. Wouldn't recommend any of them. To overcome my fear, I had to start from within.

1- Not knowing the subject well enough to talk off the top of my head like I can do now was the biggest step. If I'm speaking about writing, the publishing process, or prepping for NaNoWriMo, I'm an expert and can speaking confidently about them. When you know your subject that well, you don't stumble to find your words or next thought. A simple list on a note card keeps me talking as long as I need. Preparation is the biggest key to successful public speaking. Audiences can pick out bluster and cow flops.

2- Whenever you're asked to speak, do it if you can. Keeping in practice is important. You can get 'rusty' because when you haven't it done it in a while, you start to doubt yourself, even if you know your material. Athletes always practice; they don't simply show up for a race or competition or game. You need to practice as well.

3- Update your presentation. New facts and figures, more advanced technology, maybe a new joke, will keep your talk fresh and you from being bored. Also, sometimes word gets out about your talk and if you constantly give the same one, without being current, you won't be seen as an expert (unless it's on your personal life) and you'll be dismissed as yesterday's news.

4- Be comfortable. Okay, so those heels are killer- but they're also a killer on your feet. Look presentable but be comfy. Nothing's worse than too tight clothing or pants that keep falling down. There may be lights blazing down on you, so layers that you can peel off make sense. A professional but fun style that's comfortable will keep you focused on your talk and not your fashion mistake. This comfort rule also applies to food. Don't eat gassy foods.... Or drink so much you're desperate to use the bathroom. Keep food light, and if you're hungry, maybe a power bar or such about 15 minutes before so your stomach doesn't twist and rumble.

5- As you're walking up to the front of the class, or the podium, or the microphone, take slow, deep breaths. Make them measured and even to calm down a racing heart, and keep you from hyperventilating. A count of 4 seconds to inhale, 4 seconds to exhale is a good general rule.

You won't be an expert public speaker overnight (well, maybe!) but these steps will help you conquer that uneasy, queasy feeling enough to give your presentation and survive.

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