Seven Tips to Help You Master Your Public Speaking Anxiety!

It is completely natural to feel anxious before you speak.  Why would you feel relaxed!? It can be nerve-racking to speak in front of people.  We get in trouble when we fight our anxiety rather than accept it.  Here are a few tips to help you control your public speaking tension:

  1. Develop a routine of doing some progressive relaxation each day.  Take a few moments each day to close your eyes, and scan through your body noticing physical tension.  Just notice.  Start at your scalp and move to your toes.  You may find simply bringing attention in a non-judgemental way to your physical tension helps relieve it.
  2. Try to reframe your anxiety rather than eliminate it.  Anxiety cannot be forced away, but if we accept it is happening, we can redirect it.  As anxious feelings arise, try telling yourself “I feel scared, but also excited.  This is an opportunity to work on presenting.”  The more you can label your fear as excitement, the better off you will be.
  3. If you are speaking to a large audience, see the trees for the forest!  By this, I mean learn to speak to one person in the crowd at a time.  This may help you to see the audience as individuals, rather than a large group, and lessen your stress.
  4. Consider using an icebreaker.  A good icebreaker could be an interesting question, an informal poll, a well-timed joke, or a short story.  
  5. Make small talk with your audience before you speak – idle chit-chat is a wonderful speaking tool.  If your audience is small, shake hands with some folks, and ask some meaningful questions before you present.  Getting to know the audience personally will turn your SPEECH into a DISCUSSION.  A  discussion is infinitely more relaxing than a speech.
  6. Slow your rate of speech down, especially at the top of the speech.  Take plenty of time to breathe, and clarify your thoughts.
  7. Prepare thoroughly! If you know your audience and your subject inside and out, you will feel much more relaxed about presenting! Bear in mind, it’s ok to have notes in front of you as you speak.

Two Major Mistakes to Avoid While Planning to Moderate a Panel

As a speech coach in New York City, I am frequently called to help people who are preparing to moderate a panel. I often see the same two mistakes made as clients prepare; the first is making the panel discussion too long, and the second is making it too complex. Here is what you can do to avoid these critical errors.

First, make sure that you’re panel discussion is ONE HOUR, and ONE HOUR ONLY. Even the most lively panel discussion will begin to drag after an hour. Science has shown that our attention span is worse than that of a goldfish, so be sure to keep things moving!

Second, don’t muddy the water by having presentations woven into the event.  If you find dynamic enough panelists, and you are careful to be sure they represent opposing viewpoints (conflict and controversy are good!), your panel should be interesting enough.

If you want to moderate a successful panel discussion, keep it simple; dynamic panelists with opposing views, great curated stories (you do the curating), and a single, simple powerpoint slide to display your event information.


A Speech Coach’s Big Secret

A few days ago, I taught a big presentation skills workshop for a large advertising agency in New York City.  As I got through the section on sales pitches, and started moving toward accent reduction, I felt my hands shake a bit.  I could feel my breath shorten.  I could sense the eyeballs on me.  “I’m a speech coach!”, I thought, “I can’t get nervous.”

Well, guess what? I did.  I took an awkward pause, pretended my throat was dry, took a sip of water, and then resumed.  I stumbled on a word or two, but overall I was able to ace the job.

I still wonder if some folks noticed I was anxious.  I assume they did.  The truth is being a speech coach doesn’t exempt me from suffering from the same issues my clients face while presenting.  Everyone feels anxious before they speak, or while they speak.  The question is what do we do about it?

For me, it depends on whether I am at the beginning, middle or end of my speech.  If it is the moment before I am about to speak, I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and remind myself that the speech is not about me, but rather, about the people I am speaking to.  I put my attention on them.  I think, “How can I help?”.  If I am in the middle of the speech and I feel anxious, the first thing I do is think, “don’t fight it”.  My years of being a speech coach have taught me that anxiety, if properly directed, can be a powerful tool.  It can energize your speech.  I usually think to myself “I’m excited to present” and the nerves disappear.  I also give myself permission to take a break, stop speaking, and allow for silence.  Silence is powerful when it is embraced.

You should consider what type of person you are when deciding how to manage your speaking anxiety.  Some people are naturally confident, and need only to reassure themselves to feel better.  Other people tend to chronically doubt themselves.  If you are of the latter, trying to reassure yourself will backfire.  It will put you in conflict with your thoughts.  Try agreeing with your doubts, without believing them.  By saying to yourself, “yes I am thinking that I am going to blow this, fine”, you can then move on, and focus on the task at hand.  Again, you don’t have to believe the thoughts; you just need to acknowledge them.

So take it from a guy who knows, it is possible to manage your speaking anxiety.  You just need to know what type of person you are, and what tools you would like to use.


Job Training Directly Linked to Employee Satisfaction

Are you an HR rep or manager?  Do you feel like your team could use a morale boost but don’t know how to provide it?   A recent study found that there is a high degree of correlation between job satisfaction and on-the -job training:

 A convenience sample of 552 customer and technical service employees in nine major organizations in the United States and Canada were given the Job Training and Job Satisfaction Survey.  A major research finding in this study was the high degree of relationship between job training satisfaction and overall job satisfaction among employees.  This means that training received is related to a significant portion of the satisfaction experienced on the job .

But what kind of training is best? And how should it be tailored?  According to the study, there are a few things that need to be considered.  To start, instructor led training is key:

 It was found that the methodologies involving an instructor or coach were preferred significantly more than the more solitary type methodologies (computer-based training, or self study including video-based training).

Ok, good to know.  But should your employee’s receive the same training?  Length of employment matters:

Employees in their first year of employment were significantly more satisfied with the training they received than employees with job tenure of more than one year (regardless of the amount of tenure beyond one year). New employees (those within their first years on the job) also received significantly more training than employees with job tenure of more than one year.

It’s important to distinguish between training newer employees and experienced employees as they are going to have different needs.  Most training tends to favor temporary/contract employees who are younger.  There is a need for training opportunities for experienced employees.

Does presentation skills training work well for experienced employees?  I would argue “yes” for two reasons.  First, unlike technical training, speech training is not finite.  There is always something more to learn!  Even your most experienced employee may still have trouble with pacing, “um’s” and “ahh’s” and organizing material.  Second, presentation skills workshops tend to be highly collaborative, and benefit from the experience of legacy employees.  This collaborative environment helps bond younger and more experienced employees.


The Science Behind Successful Presenting

I was recently asked by a fantastic education company in Silicon Valley to teach a module on customer presentations for one of their workshops.  I decided to dig a bit into current trends.  I was quite shocked at some of the information I unearthed.  Did you know…

  1. Between 80 and 90% of the information that our brain processes comes in through our eyes.
  2. In a study conducted by the Management Information Systems Research Center at the University of Minnesota and the 3M Corporation, researchers found that the simple act of adding visuals to a presentation can have a dramatic impact on audience response.
  3. Personal stories make up 65% of our conversations—a fact that is rooted in the ways that stories engage our brains.
  4. Research has shown that people are more likely to remember which brands are  associated with certain products when first presented with the information in an  interactive format versus a static format.

Hmmm. So what does this research tell us about presenting?  A few things. First, visuals are a must.  So break out your PowerPoint, right? Well, sort of.  Keep in mind, the type of visual matters.  Bullet points don’t count as “visuals” and, research shows, detracts from our ability to process information. Using full bleed pictures that stimulate the senses, however, is a great way to engage your audience.

Next, storytelling is key.  But what types of stories?  Science tells us that stories that stimulate the senses, and use phrases like “smelled like perfume” or “skin as soft as velvet” tend to stick more than “static” stories that do not engage the senses.

Finally, flexibility is imperative.  You are more likely to impress a customer if you give them options.  After you’ve determined what information is most important to your audience, create a “road map” of your presentation, and let them drive.  Choose three products they might like information on, and then ask which ones are most pertinent to them.  Make an interactive game out of the choice by allowing your audience to choose the topic from their Ipads.

To illustrate, if I were giving a customer presentation on a new line of cars, I might start by researching what types of cars my client might need.  From there, I would design some sexy visuals, using sleek imagery that engages the senses.  Next, I would unify my visuals under a few theme words that link to each car, like, “in command” or “on the road”, and build stories around each theme.  Finally, I would give my customer the option of choosing which cars, and thus which presentation, they would like to view.   By utilizing storytelling, visual aids, and an interactive format, I’ve upped my game, and crafter a stellar presentation.