Thought Leadership Resources

#60 Conquer your fear of public speaking with a mindset change

Should you be putting more work into getting speaking engagements to build your personal profile as an expert in your field? Just maybe. Consider:

Potential clients get to see what you’re like as a person
You can interact with people from the stage, building a relationship with them
People at the event have more respect for what you say even in ordinary conversations, because you’re wearing that “Speaker” badge (It works! Really!!)
It looks good on social media, on your CV and on your LinkedIn profile


More on this topic in Post #39.

Yet many business professionals loathe and fear even the idea of getting onto a podium to address a group. Here are some of my thoughts on how to get over that fear.

1. Gain the confidence that comes from excellence

The route to butterfly-free public speaking starts long before you step onto the podium at a conference. It starts with building your skills.

For example, in my own work, I’m faced with the need right now to get good at the online project-management tool, Trello. It could be that you’re saying, “What’s hard about that?” because you know all about Trello. Or, you might be asking, “What’s Trello?” But the point is that I’m apprehensive about using Trello because it’s new to me.

It’s like that with any new skill. Being unfamiliar with it engenders apprehension. So, like I’m going to do with Trello, just jump in and learn. If you gain familiarity with public speaking, you’ll gain confidence in your skills.

The best way to gain skills, experience and familiarity around public speaking is through the organization Toastmasters. It’s an international group, with chapters all over the world, which helps people learn public speaking and leadership skills.

As I’ve said in this blog before, when I started my consulting practice I knew I needed to get good at public speaking. So I went onto toastmasters.org, and used their “find a club near you” function to connect with a local club, Trillium Toastmasters. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

I began attending meetings, and went through their training program, which start with short speeches, and gradually get longer and with more skills to master. It’s a warm, welcoming environment, with plenty of encouragement.

After I started to do better on the small, small stage (a public library’s meeting room) at Toastmasters, I was ready to try my skills out on a real audience (Post #30 talks about how you can find that audience).

You can do this too. There are speaking coaches and courses, but in my view, Toastmasters is the best way to gain speaking skills.

2. Build a topic that meets their most pressing needs

Most of the engineers and other technical professionals I work with just love solving problems. They love being helpful, and making things happen.

If you’re like that, harness that desire to help, in building your skills as a speaker.

To do this, avoid a common error for people planning a speech, which is selecting a topic that THEY want to talk about. Most technical professionals feel that they have to do this, and it rings false for them. They want to help, not sell.

So don’t sell, help. Select a topic that genuinely serves the people who will be in your audience. You can do this best by finding out which are the top three or four issues that they’re facing. Maybe it’s a new regulation with which they must comply, or a new technology that’s threatening to Uberize their business (see Post #29 for more on how to make your speech a must-attend for conference delegates). Maybe it’s a perennial need, such as the pressure to reduce costs or boost productivity.

And it doesn’t have to be bad news. For example, many businesses are getting excited about the opportunities available from 3-D printing, and maybe you can tell them how this technology can help them deal with the issues they’re facing.

Then, build your speech around a way they can deal with the problem or opportunity. You’re not selling your services – you’re showing that you understand their world, and you can help them.

That’s the “mindset change” referred to in the title of this blog – change your mindset from “I need to find a topic that will make these people hire me,” to “I know what your biggest challenges are, and here are my ideas on how you can deal with them.”

Once you know your speech will help the people in your audience, you’ll find it a lot easier to get onto that stage. I covered this progression from a me-focus to a you-focus in post #55, “Create content that engages your clients, not just you.”

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3. Practicing helps you reassure yourself

My third tip for getting over your fear of public speaking is to practice your speech until you are confident you can do it well. Once you’ve learned your topic well enough to do it without stumbling, you’ll have the boldness needed to do it in front of an audience. So practice it in your office, or maybe in front of a mirror. If you can, present it to an empty conference room or larger venue.

A podcast I listened to recently, Soft Skills Engineering, suggested trying out your presentation on a smaller audience such as an informal meetup. These groups are usually smaller, and may be more willing to let you test your ideas, provided those ideas are relevant to the group and you come prepared. The podcast suggested making an agreement that you’ll do the presentation to the meetup provided you’re able to ask for feedback afterwards.

You can find meetups in your area through meetup.com and eventbrite.com (if you know of other sites that offer meetups, please let me know).

Those are my three tips on how to get over your fear of public speaking. I’ve used them, and I genuinely enjoy public speaking and leading workshops now. I love seeing the lightbulbs go on inside people’s heads when they understand a concept that eluded them before (like, how to get over their fear of public speaking) or get an idea that they can use. That makes it all worthwhile.

To apply these ideas:

What steps can you take today to get better at public speaking – for example, find a Toastmasters group you can join?
What are the three or four biggest challenges or opportunities facing the people you want to serve – and which of these can be developed into a speech topic?
What steps will you take to practice your presentation – maybe deliver it to a “test market” audience?

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Carl Friesen

Carl is the Founder of the Thought Leadership Resources and helps business professionals gain the skills they need to build their profile as subject-matter experts and thought leaders.

You can connect with Carl on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter

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