So you'd rather binge on wasabi than speak publicly? Join the club – research shows that 23 per cent of Australians fear public speaking more than death. The good news is we can all overcome (or at least hide) an aversion to speaking in public. Here’s how:
Presenting to your boss
Thankfully, most managers don’t operate Horrible Bosses style, says professional speaker Margaret Stuart. “Your boss is a human being, just like you – you have the knowledge, skills and ability to do your job, so respect that and relax.”
Be courteous and a little formal: Dress appropriately for your workplace, back up your statements and claims with solid research, and trust your knowledge, urges Stuart.
Know your objectives: What do you want to get out of the meeting? Asking yourself this question will help focus your presentation. Then, list any questions to ask or topics you need to address in order of importance.
Understand the boss’s personality, time pressures and priorities: “For example, is the bottom line most important to them? Are they most relaxed and available after lunch?” asks professional speaker Merry Robertson. Find out, then plan accordingly.
Giving a bridesmaid's speech
It's the most important day of your best friend’s life and she’s trusting you to bring the house down. Meanwhile, you’re worrying about saying her ex’s name instead of her new husband’s. Take a deep breath, then take this advice from wedding planner Jeannie Sheppard...
Be concise: No matter how entertaining, you’ll lose your audience if your speech lasts for more than five minutes.
Curb your alcohol intake beforehand: A slurring speaker is never a good look.
Avoid in-jokes: While you may think secrets you and the bride share are hilarious, chances are you’ll make most guests feel alienated.
Don’t blubber: A few tears are fine, but a sobbing bridesmaid will make everyone feel uncomfortable. A well-prepared speech will ease those nerves and keep the floods at bay.
Keep it family-friendly: A couple of embarrassing stories about the bride are de rigueur, but keep them light-hearted and never sexual in nature.
Say something nice about the groom: You’re sharing your best friend with him, so don’t forget to mention him.
Playing the role of emcee
Remember, it’s not about you. Your job is to keep the action running smoothly and warm the audience to each speaker so they want to listen. Your number-one rule? “Wear something you’re comfortable in and have worn before so you don’t fidget, adjust or fiddle with it,” recommends Robyn Henderson, professional emcee and speaker.
Arrive at the venue early: Make sure you know how the microphone and any other equipment works before the proceedings kick off. Read each speaker’s profile, so you can give them a great introduction, and double-check all pronunciations and jot down tricky ones phonetically.
Talk to the speakers: Try to keep things running on time, arrange to give presenters “five minutes to go” and “wind it up” signals – and make sure you stick to them.
Don’t panic: If a loud noise interrupts the event or something unexpected happens, don’t ignore it. Everyone else will have noticed, too, so acknowledge it and then move on.
Speaking up in a meeting
Do you tend to keep your mouth clamped shut in meetings? “Stay in the moment rather than trying to think of something clever to say,” urges psychologist Victoria Kasunic.† “If you’re present and engaged in the conversation, you’ll naturally find things to say or contribute. It’s when you feel self-conscious and focused on yourself that you tend to hold back.”
Relax: Focus on breathing into your belly and counting to three with each inhalation and exhalation, advises Kasunic. “When we’re stressed, we can’t access the part of our brain that looks after complex thinking, such as problem-solving and strategy.”
Modulate your voice: Use a strong, medium volume, but a lower pitch than you might use to speak to friends. “We prefer to listen to resonant voices rather than high-pitched, breathy ones, and get annoyed by voices that aren’t loud enough,” adds Kasunic.
Stay strong: “People recall the first and last things you say, so start strong and don’t trail off and mumble at the end. You want to leave them with a clear, strong statement, as that’s what they’ll remember.”
Speaking to the media
Representing your company in the media can be a daunting experience. “Before speaking with journalists, research them and their media outlet’s background so you know what type of audience you will be talking to,” suggests public relations consultant Catriona Pollard. “Make sure you understand exactly what they’ll be talking to you about and pre-prepare.”
If you’re going on TV: Sit, rather than stand, and use slow, controlled movements. “This will help with nerves, as it forces your brain to slow down,” says Pollard. “Also allow yourself time to think and make sure all points are brief and succinct.”
If you’re speaking on radio: Because this medium gives the illusion of a one-on-one relationship with its listeners, adopt a friendly approach and remember to speak to or with your audience, not at them.
If you’re going to be in print: “Deliver key messages early and don’t ramble,” says Pollard. “During a phone interview, stand while you speak – it will make you feel and sound more confident.”
Top 5 public speaking tips
We asked clinical psychologist Margaret Ross for her best confidence boosters.
1 Gently lengthen your spine so you feel taller and straighter – you’ll look and feel more confident.
2 Maintain eye contact to look more professional and poised (even if you don’t really feel it).
3 Exhale slowly to calm any signs of anxiety.
4 Smile – it physically relaxes the body.
5 Remember, the audience wants you to do well. They want to hear something interesting, funny or pleasant.