By Joy Landry
I have a confession to make: As a newly-graduated communications major from Xavier University, I had a deep, dark secret I worked painstakingly to hide: I was afraid of public speaking. My nervousness was nearly debilitating. I spent so much time worrying about making a mistake, I risked not focusing on the message I was about to deliver.
Americans list public speaking as one of their primary phobias. And like so many other fears and challenges in life, the best way to overcome it is to face it.
The anxiety of public speaking can be conquered. Even the most shy, nervous person can learn to be a confident and, if needs be, persuasive speaker.
For me, the key strategy was to practice. The better you know your material, the more confident you will be in presenting it. Practice in front of a mirror. Practice in front of a trusted friend or family member who will provide you with honest feedback to help you improve. Practice in front of your pets – I know, it sounds crazy, but a co-worker and I have each delivered practice speeches to our dogs. It helps to establish the pace and timing of your speech and key points you wish to convey.
If you are feeling really brave, videotape yourself delivering your speech and then watch it. As uncomfortable as it may be, this is a good way to identify any distracting habits you may not be aware of while speaking. You may not realize that you tend to rock back and forth or gesture too emphatically until you watch yourself speaking.
Television interviews did not make me as nervous as talking in front of a group of people. After I completed my first television news interview, I was rather pleased with the experience. Then my supervisor invited me to watch my interview and asked me to count how many times I said “um.” Much to my mortification, I said the dreaded “um” word 10 times in a 33-second clip. Although I was dismayed, it was a valuable learning moment for me and I banished this space-filling idiosyncrasy from my speech patterns.
Although social media has provided a host of controlled outlets for public relations professionals to deliver our carefully honed messages, you never know when you may be asked to give an impromptu interview or be invited to address an important audience. Maintain your public speaking skills by seeking out opportunities to make presentations within your office, on committees you serve and to your employer’s or client’s audiences. Regardless of your level of public speaking confidence and experience, you may find helpful tips at Toastmasters’ International’s website.
If you are a member of Cincinnati PRSA, consider sharing your own “Confession of a Communicator” with your colleagues through this blog. Email your idea to Kathleen Williams, firstname.lastname@example.org.