career

This is how you overcome your biggest public fear.

What do you fear most: death or public speaking? Numerous studies show that it’s the latter that strikes terror into our hearts.

But like it or not, you need this skill – and not just if you have a high-flying career and are called upon to give a keynote presentation.

In the end if you’ve got something to say, there’s a time when you need to say it. It might be a work situation. It might be a volunteer role. Somehow you’ve got to override the terror and step up to the plate.

Failure flashes in front of you in neon light. What if I make a fool of myself? What if I’m mediocre? The latter question is a good thing to worry about. Most speeches are boring – too waffly, clichéd and self-serving. They are endured not enjoyed.

On the flip side, public speaking can be an extraordinary opportunity. You can inspire others. At the right time, the right idea can transform a person. In our hearts, we all know that.

"Speaking at TEDx Canberra a few weeks ago scared the pants off me." Image via Youtube/TEDx.

I won’t lie. Speaking at TEDx Canberra a few weeks ago scared the pants off me. But as American scholar Brené Brown says, you have to put yourself in the arena:

“I’m constantly reminding myself that I can’t wait until I’m perfect or bulletproof to walk into the arena because that’s never going to happen. We just have show up and let ourselves be seen – that’s my definition of ‘daring greatly.’”

How do you grab the opportunity with both hands? This is what I learned from TEDx.

Do the work.

If you watch TED talks regularly online, it’s easy to think the speakers are just gliding through their talks. Wow. Look at that man. He’s so confident. Look at that incredible woman. She knows her stuff. She’s brilliant. This might be true, but a bucket load of work went into that perfect talk.

It looks effortless because the speaker knows it so well. My TEDx talk went through eight drafts. I fact-checked even the tiniest things. I rehearsed over and over again – sometimes out loud and sometimes in my head.

A month beforehand, I recorded my talk onto my smart phone and played it back every time I had to drive or walk somewhere. While this might seem exhausting, keep your eye on the ball. If you become a great public speaker, not only will you have the satisfaction of feeling heard, but doors will open for you.

Hit them hard.

Just like when you first meet someone, the first 30 seconds are really important. You have to make an impression fast. Start strong. Tell a story that will hook the audience in and give them a clue about where you’re going. Then they’ll be ready for you to take them with on the journey.

ADVERTISEMENT

Have a through line.

In his book on public speaking, Chris Anderson, the curator of TED, discusses the so-called “through line.” This is like the trunk of a tree. Even if your talk branches out into different directions, there has to be one solid idea running through your talk. Don’t have time to read the book? There’s a short video version of Chris’ concept here.

Be vulnerable.

The audience wants to connect with you. They want a reason to enjoy your talk and take something from it. Give them this reason. This often involves revealing a bit of yourself – whether it’s a self-depreciating joke, a work failure or a moment when you felt sheer terror. Yes. It might be close to home and it might take courage.

My TEDx speaking coach, Katrina Howard, gives this advice:

“For the audience to meaningfully connect, you need to be genuine and authentic but also share some of your unique personality [and] your passion and energy for your subject.

“It’s ok to be a…nervous, but if you’re too nervous, disconnected, shut down or serious, people will quickly switch off!”

"The audience wants to connect with you." Image via Youtube/TEDx.

Lean on your friends and take feedback

Sure. It’s petrifying giving a first draft of your talk to a friend to read through or even performing a test run in front of them. Their feedback might be brutal. If it is, take a deep breath. It’s better to polish privately and get it right publicly. In the months before TEDx, my talk was edited by two trusted friends – Sue and Hannah.

The result was a much stronger narrative. Two other dear friends listened to me rehearse many times and gave me feedback about my body language and the rhythm of my speech, including where to pause and allow the audience to take in the impact of what I was saying.

Do your power poses.

One of the most-watched TED talks is by social psychologist Amy Cuddy. Amy shows us how to use “power poses” to impact testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain. She says: “When you pretend to be powerful, you are more likely to actually feel powerful.”

Put another way, Amy says: “Fake it until you become it.”

The morning of my TEDx talk I couldn’t eat. As the time drew closer, I thought I was going to be sick. I could hear my blood pumping in my ears and feel my pulse slamming in my neck. I was dizzy. Right before our microphones were put on, myself and two other speakers decided to do Amy’s power poses. Something amazing happened. I was suddenly calm and one clear thought rang out: I can do it. This is the moment.

This is how my talk about Internet trolling went.

Good luck with your talk. You’ll kick arse!

Ginger Gorman is an award winning print and radio journalist, and a 2016 TEDx Canberra speaker. Follow her on Twitter @GingerGorman or read more of her stories here.

FROM OUR NETWORK
00:00 / ???