“The retirement planning firm I work for has just started holding seminars where various strategies are discussed with an audience of about 50 people. My problem is stage fright. I’ve been reading your columns for years and know that you’re a litigator, researched and found several articles in the ABA Banking Journal on presentation skills – including overcoming stage fright – by one Dennis Beaver. Is that you? Any tips or books on public speaking that you can recommend would be greatly appreciated. Thank you, ‘Gary’.
Yes it’s me
Before going to law school, I planned to become a speech-language pathology teacher in college and earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in speech-language pathology/communications. After becoming a litigator, I put those degrees to good use, teaching public speaking at our community college and, for many years, pitching skills to bankers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Graduate School of Banking each August.
A week before the August session, I phoned every banker in my class, learning why they were taking a public speaking course and what specific problems they needed to solve. Among other issues, many reported that they had stage fright! In order to grow professionally, they was to become best speakers. Our class gave them the tools.
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Performance anxiety/stage fright is real
The fear of death comes second for someone who suffers from severe stage fright. (opens in a new tab).
Resulting from your body pumping out too much adrenaline, symptoms before and during a presentation include a racing heart, shaking hands, vultures flapping wings in your stomach, all of which make it feel like something is wrong. bad will happen.
Afterwards, “I felt physically drained, drained and glad it was over” are frequent comments I’ve heard, along with “I know they think I was just a bunch of nervous and stupid”.
The surprising truth about stage fright is that audiences rarely have any idea how nervous a speaker really is – unless you do the wrong things and reveal behaviors that communicate fear. However, when the person seems to enjoy speaking in front of a group, credibility and effectiveness increase dramatically.
How to avoid letting stage fright show
No matter how nervous you feel inside, your audience will have no idea unless you reveal those feelings through rigidity behaviors — standing still with outstretched arms and hands, clutching the lectern for dear life – Where inhibitory behaviors – a monotonous voice, speaking too softly or too many “and… uh”.
In class, I ask anyone who suffers from stage fright to raise their hands, and towards a student, I walk and chat normally – about their work, their family, their children – just light conversation. At some point, I take her by the hand, and we walk to the front of the class, still maintaining this pleasant dialogue.
Stepping back, but still chatting with the student, I soon leave her alone, engaged in a wonderful little dialogue with me – about anything at the time. And then I turn to the class and ask, “How is she? I hear a response from Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger: “AWESOME!” And I ask him, “How do you feel?” Another “GREAT!”
“What did we just prove?” I ask.
“It’s mostly in your head!” is the class response. The student admits to feeling very nervous at first, fearing it was obvious, and then starting to enjoy our little experiment.
Ways to Reduce or Hide the Signs of Anxiety
1. Be the first person in the room. We’re more comfortable talking with people we know, and the way to do that is to be the first person in the room. By introducing yourself to a handful of spectators when they arrive, it creates a very positive feeling. “Wasn’t it nice?” In fact, the speaker approached me, introduced himself, and we talked about his topic,” they think. Your anxiety level will usually subside.
2. You don’t have to open your presentation with a funny story. If you have a cute story that suits you, use it, but if you’re someone who can’t tell a joke, then don’t audition for Saturday Night Live in front of this audience.
3. Think dialoguenot speech. The audience likes to engage in a dialogue with the speaker, so consider opening your speech with questions that can be answered. “How many of you are worried about financing your (children’s college education, retirement, etc.)? » Look for the raised hands. Then, with hand gestures that clearly indicate that you would like this person to explain, ask, “Betty, please tell me your concerns.”
4. Use the room to hide any nervousness. Do you feel the hands of the earthquake about to happen? Just put your hands on the podium or the edge of the table. No one will see them tremble.
To make good eye contact, move around the room, but don’t pace. The audience will follow you with their eyes and you, in turn, will appear to give everyone eye contact without trying.
5. Don’t rely on visual aids — they will fail you! Keep it conversational! Incorporate reviews into the presentation. Visual aids are just that – aids – and often fail at the worst possible time. Remember that an audience isn’t a pile of digital voice recorders – they can’t remember everything – so incorporate points where you review the material you’ve covered.
6. Do you really want to fail? Hand out handouts at the start of your speech or start talking, if a meal is being served, when everyone is cutting their steak. Handing out materials at the start of your speech could ensure that your speech is completely forgettable, as your audience will fumble with the material rather than pay attention to it. It is best to distribute the handout at the end. And if you’re speaking at dinner or lunch, let everyone finish eating before you start your speech, because food is far more important than anything you have to say.
Here are two great resources for more help: What to say when… you die on the platform by Lilly Walters and Public speaking do’s and taboos: how to get those forming butterflies flying by Roger E. Axell. Both are available on Amazon.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield, California, and welcomes comments and questions from readers, which may be faxed to (661) 323-7993, or emailed to Lagombeaver1@gmail.com. And don’t forget to visit dennisbeaver.com.
This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing advisor, not Kiplinger’s editorial staff. You can check advisor records with the SEC (opens in a new tab) or with FINRA (opens in a new tab).
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