There are a few reasons why people are afraid to stand up in front of a group and speak:

  • The fear of being ridiculed;
  • The fear of being judged;
  • Separation anxiety (everyone else is seated and you aren’t).
I have worked with enough people throughout the years to understand that I can’t snap my fingers to make the fear disappear.  But, I can help anyone appear more confident.
How?  Instead of spending sleepless nights fearful of failure, turn that negative energy and useless worry into something positive.  Write down all of your positive traits, and remind yourself the value you bring to your organization.  Do you have an energetic, engaging personality?  Are you genuine and sincere?  Do you have a deep expertise in the suject matter?
Prepare!  Don’t wait until the last minute.
Practice!  At least 6 times before the presentation.
Take time, before your speech that day, to mentally walk through each aspect of your presentation.  Picture yourself speaking with confidence and clarity.
When it is your time to speak and as you take your place in front of the room, don’t let the fear show in your posture.  Think of what your mother drummed into you….STAND UP STRAIGHT.
Are you still feeling the butterflies?  Channel those nerves into a communication skill.
The best skill to include that will mask the nerves is a descriptive, purposeful hand gesture.  Find ways, throughout your speech, to use your hands to describe your theory, plan or widget.
Remember, the listeners want you to succeed.  (Don’t you feel the same when you are sitting in the audience?)
Know that the strengths you have will be evident.  Let that solid foundation power your presentation.

It’s hard to separate the message from the messenger

I recently participated in a focus group.  In addition to a Q&A session, we were also asked to rate the content of some video clips.  We were reminded that the experts in the clip were not trained public speakers, so to please tailor our remarks to what the person had to say, not how s/he said it.

One of the videos was of a man who was responding to a question designed by the research company. When he was answering the question, it was clear he had not prepared:  he had lots of “ums” and “ahs” in between his sentences and his eyes were darting as he was searching for the content.

As we (in the focus group) began to express our reactions, many people remarked how unprepared he sounded, noted that he had too many ums and ahs, and – overall – seemed evasive; in other words, they didn’t listen to the content and didn’t trust his message.

The lesson for all of us is that it is hard, if not almost impossible, for listeners/viewers to separate the message from the messenger.

You ARE the message.  Your communication skills can either enhance your message or serve as a distraction.

So, if you want to be HEARD, do not underestiimate the value of preparation, practice, feedback and the necessity of improving your delivery.

Connecting to your audience

If you want to connect to your audience, the communication skill that will help you the most is eye contact.

You must look at each audience member for at least two seconds to establish that connection.

Most people want to look at the friendly faces only: the ones who look interested and are nodding in approval.  But you must create trust, build a rapport and connect to those who might be disapproving, look mad or seem bored.

While two seconds may seem a long time to you, it is not.  Most of the participants in my seminars say that it is a sufficient amount of time for them to feel recognized.

If you need to practice, step into a conference room on your lunch break or after work.  Stand at the head of the table and practice looking at each chair for the count of two. This will give you a chance to feel what it is like to go around the room and to experience the two seconds.

Make sure you vary the pattern; don’t go around the room in order.  Look from side to side, front to back.

If you are in a job interview setting, share the eye contact amongst everyone in the room.  Do not let it throw you off if they spend most of the time writing or looking down at their questions.  Continue to look at each person for a sentence or two.

On JobTalk America, I offer presentation and fashion advice for job seekers.
How to avoid job interview fashion disasters

How to be more confident in your next job interview

How to show the right amount of energy in your next job interview

How to master your next phone interview

How to look contemporary in your job hunt