There’s no doubt about it. Glossophobia is still the top phobia – it ranks above arachnophobia, acrophobia and thanatophobia. In simple English, public speaking ranks above the fear of spiders, fear of heights and fear of death! A Chapman University Survey on American Fears found that 25.3% say they fear to speak in front of a crowd. Yet, according to Warren Buffet, this is the number one skill you need to improve your value by 50%. In other words, you can use public speaking to grow your business.

Bear in mind that public speaking today includes speaking to a virtual audience. It can be live or pre-recorded. Today, your message can reach numbers that would have been impossible before internet arrived on the scene. Confucius believes that a good speech should impact individual lives, regardless of whether they were in the audience. He believed that someone of power could influence the world with words and action. This could not be truer today.  For example, Joe Rogan is one of the biggest podcasters IN THE WORLD, with an average audience of 11 million listeners per episode!  Ask yourself, how can you use public speaking to grow your business?

Why is public speaking the number one fear?

I believe much of our fear of public speaking can be directly attributed to our fear of criticism and rejection. We tell ourselves … We’re not good enough or we’ll never be good enough. I mean, who would want to listen to “me”. Tell yourself often enough and you will actually believe it. Once you believe this, you justify this by saying “I’m really not interested in public speaking”.

With the advent of the digital age, this has become easier.  You no longer have to worry about making mistakes on stage and wishing that the ground will just open up and swallow you up!  Just edit out the mistakes and no one will know! So stop making excuses. There is nothing to stop you  doing public speaking to grow your business!

If you truly want to grow your business, you must master the art of public speaking.  Whether you’re speaking to one person or a group of people, public speaking is your way of reaching your potential customers on a personal level.  Being the person on stage or doing the presentation will give you credibility and show you to be a thought leader in your field. This is your chance to win customers by showing them what’s so special about you. Many “world class chefs” on TV are actually not the best chefs … But they are great public speakers. I know many great chefs who would never buy cookbooks by the TV chefs!

Overcoming the fear of public speaking

There is no such thing as a one size fits all remedy. A lot depends on your personality type.  For instance, telling someone who is a high “C” in DISC profiling that “It will be fine. You know your stuff. Just wing it” will not work. They have a need to be perfect before they do anything but tell that to a “D” person and they will go for it.

Over the years, there have been numerous tips published by various speakers and trainers. I recall reading a long time ago that one of the easiest ways to is imagine that the audience is in their underwear. Well, when I did that once before I had to give a really important presentation, my imagination ran riot and I just could not stop laughing to myself. That was positively distracting and I had to really concentrate to bring myself back to the job on hand! Having said that, I do believe it works well for others. So it comes back again to your personality.  Do what works for you. Public speaking is a great way to grow your business – use it.

1.    Speak to one person

One of the most useful advice came from something that my mentor John Maxwell said when someone asked him how he manages to speak to 50,000 to 60,000 people.  You don’t. You speak to one person.  Pick a friendly face in the audience and focus on that. They are definitely not the ones sitting back, with their arms crossed with a look that says “This is going to be boring”.  Pick someone who with a happy face, sitting upright, notepad ready and looking like they are ready and eager to learn. Then it becomes a conversation, not a speech.

2.   Learn to work from your fears and your weaknesses.

For instance, I have a medical condition where I am unable to stop my hands shaking. It’s not bad, but it is noticeable. Well, I knew from a very young age that I would never become a surgeon or a waitress! However, a shaking hand does project to the audience that I am nervous. So, for a very long time, I refused to do public speaking. Now, rather than try to hide it, I just tell my audience about it. Or, if I am presenting a webinar, I make sure that I am positioned in such a way that my hands can either rest on a table or my lap.  There is nothing that cannot be overcome. King George VI hated public speaking and was embarrassed by his stutter. Yet he triumphed over it.  One of the most influential orators Winston Churchill have also had to deal with stuttering.

3.   Practice Practice Practice

Nothing beats practice. The more practice you do, the more you know the content. And the more you know your content, the less nervous you will be. I have  friends who feel uncomfortable practising in front of people. So they practice in front of their dog LOL. Video tape your practice run and watch it – or, have a friend critique it for you. You will probably never be perfect. But you will certainly be a lot better than if you never practiced at all!

4.   Know your content

This is key. There is nothing worse (for me) than listening to someone who obviously do not know their content. The dead giveaway on this is if you simply read your whole speech. As someone who has sat in a conference listening to one of those speakers, I would rather they just give me the handout and I’ll read it myself later!  Reading from a script also means that you will not be able to maintain eye contact with your audience. If you must have anything, just have a brief outline to jog your memory.

5.   Know your audience

Who are you talking to? Part of your preparation for your talk should be to find out your audience avatar. John Maxwell told us that he liked mingling with the audience before he has to give his speech as it gives him the opportunity to get to know his audience. It will help determine the choice of words you use. Personalising your speech to reference a member of the audience you may have spoken to helps to keep the audience more engaged.

6.   Stay connected

During the talk, maintain eye contact and watch for feedback. Stay flexible with your presentation. If you continue with your prepared “standard” talk irrespective of your audience reaction, you stand a high chance that you will lose your audience. This comes back to knowing your content and knowing your audience. For example, if you notice your audience look like they would like you to go in-depth into a particular area, don’t just ignore them.

7.   Be yourself.

Let your personality shine through. I’ve met some people who say they are uncomfortable with letting anything “shine through”.  Remember, the audience want to listen to you – not you trying to be someone else. So, don’t try to be what you’re not. If you are by nature an introvert and you are overwhelmed by the thought of public speaking, take guidance from some of the “quiet influencers”.

8.   Tell a story

Audiences generally like a personal touch in a speech. A story will provide that. People remember stories – they don’t remember straight boring facts. That’s the way our brains are wired. According to Harvard Business Publishing, storytelling also helps with learning because stories are easy to remember. Let’s be pragmatic about this – your sole aim in business is to persuade your customers to buy from you. There’s no better way. Kendall Haven, author of Story Proof and Story Smart, considers storytelling “serious business for business”.

9.   Audio visuals are great in the right place

In my own personal journey, I have gone from a death by powerpoint and clutching on to the lectern for safety in my young days to sometimes fully winging it. Neither is to be recommended. Death by powerpoint is incredibly boring to the audience. On the other hand, if you fully wing it, there is a very high chance that you will be equally boring AND you end up missing out the key points you wanted to tell your audience. There will be times when a picture can tell a story better than any words can. So, don’t be obsessive about not using any audio visuals at all. There is a time and a place for it.

10.  Monotone voice is a killer

This is the best way to make sure you send your audience to sleep. You will notice that the best speakers have a lot of variety in the tone and pitch of their voice. One of the best ways to practice is to take a well known inspiring speech such as the Martin Luther King “I have a dream” speech. Listen to the recording. Then practice reading it.

11.  Non verbal communication

Do you know that it is the non-verbals that carries most of the message? Use your hands. Try not to have the “filler” noises that we all have a tendency to have when we don’t know what to say. If you’ve ever attended Toastmasters, you will have seen that they will actually mark speakers on the number of times they speaker says “ahmm” or “ahh” or whatever! I’ve also seen speakers who do their entire speech with their hands in their pocket! So, figure out what you can do with your hands – they can be distracting!

12.  Engage quickly

Do you know that your audience will make critical decision about you in the first 30-60 seconds? That’s not a long time to hook your audience. On YouTube, you only have 10 seconds.  Arouse their curiosity and keep your audience engaged by asking thought-provoking questions.  Most of all, include humour. Everyone enjoys a good laugh.

You see, public speaking is a skill you can learn. The more practice you have, the better you get. There are numerous places where you can learn the art of public speaking.  Toastmasters and Rostrum are probably the most well known for those who learn well in a club surrounding.  In today’s world of online courses, googling “public speaking courses” will give you 101 options.  Bottom line is – do what works for you. John Maxwell’s philosophy of talking to just one person as if they are the only one on the planet works for me.

What works for you?