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The Art of Public Speaking

Nour Al-Kurdy is an English as a second language teacher, English/Arabic translator, and content writer from Syria.

Does the idea of public speaking fill you with dread? If it does, you are not alone. 77% of the population have what is known as Glossophobia (a fear of public speaking).

A brief history of public speaking

Public speaking is hardly a new thing. It dates back to the ancient Greeks, who used public speaking as a political tool in debates and assemblies. The main purpose of their speeches was to persuade people, an art known as rhetoric. This use of rhetoric continued in ancient Rome. However, the art of public speaking is certainly evolving, even if some things remain the same.

The fear of public speaking

Why do I have a fear of public speaking? It’s important to understand why you feel anxious about public speaking; there could be many reasons and we are going to talk about them below.

First, you may feel self-conscious, which is definitely one of the most common reasons why people are scared of speaking in public. If you try to view the speech as a conversation between people rather than a presentation to an unknown audience, you may be able to rise above your self-consciousness.

Second. You may also be worried about appearing nervous. This is related to feeling self-conscious, but is often even more scary. It is hard to look confident while you are feeling anxious, and faking it can seem like an impossible feat.

Third, it is easy to compare yourself to professional speakers. However, if all speakers were the same, then speeches would not be interesting. Your purpose is not to be an all-time great speaker, but simply to provide something of value to your audience.

How to deal with public speaking anxiety

There are certain things you can work on. The first part, self-efficacy, is about the belief you have in your ability to succeed in different situations. You can practise your presentation in front of a small group of people, for example your family or friends, then ask for feedback in order to improve your self-confidence.

The second part is establishing your locus of control, which is about your belief that you are able to influence situations in your life, internally and externally. Therefore, in order to cultivate an internal locus of control, you should focus on the things in life that you have total control over, and create goals that relate to those things. This approach merely encourages you to think about what you do have control over, and focus on that.  

How to change your mindset

Experts have provided several useful tips on how to rewire your thoughts into more positive ones. When you are about to give a presentation and you are feeling terrified, your inner critic might say things like “I cannot do it and I am not good enough” - at this point you will feel nervous, and you will start to forget things while doing your presentation or even stutter. If you acknowledge that it is just a thought rather than a fact, you will become more self-aware and less anxious. It might be beneficial to replace this thought with a more considered statement, like “This is difficult right now, but it will get easier.”

Mastering the art of public speaking

Preparation is the key to succeeding.

Before the speech 

Research your topic in detail. If you truly understand your topic, you won’t need to memorise a speech, and you will be able to improvise if you need to. Then, know your message. In the planning stage, you should ask yourself, why are you giving this presentation? Your idea should take center stage, and you are simply the platform presenting that idea to an audience. After that, understand your audience. Who are you talking to? Make sure to target your speech towards them. Think about how formal or informal you should be.

During the speech

Start and finish on time. This may sound simple, but it is really important to start and finish on time. If you begin late, the audience might get annoyed before you have even started, and if it drags on for too long, the audience might lose interest.

Keep it entertaining too. There are numerous ways to make sure your speech is entertaining, and this does not mean it cannot be on a serious topic.

Interact with your audience. If you ask the audience questions, be prepared for jokey, irrelevant or inappropriate answers, and make sure you have the tools to deal with that.

Storytelling can also be a great tool to create social change. Improve your storytelling techniques and calm your presentation nerves. In doing so, you will will identify the tools and techniques you can use to build your confidence and improve your presentation. Learn storytelling skills to create a memorable presentation and pay attention to mindfulness tips for managing your nerves so you can deliver your message with ease. To help improve your delivery style, you can learn how to create effective slides that support your message in what could be a high-stakes situation. Lastly, get constructive feedback. Asking for feedback prepares you for the idea that you are being judged, and allows you to correct certain aspects.

Public speaking skills in the business world

Public speaking is a soft skill that requires excellent communication skills, enthusiasm, and the ability to engage with an audience. Moreover, presentations can help in career development, considering the fact that employees with public speaking skills have more opportunities than those who do not. Their ability to present effectively can be noted by their managers. Furthermore, public speaking helps you to become experienced in time management.

There are many benefits to improving your public speaking ability, and these are needed to succeed at work because public speaking is a part of all business communications. The ability to consistently speak with clarity and authenticity is an advantage in meetings, presentations, networking events, job interviews and sales calls.

Working with a coach can improve your business speaking skills

You may like to consider public speaking classes, workshops, or seminars. Practicing your speech while standing in front of others can certainly help, but nothing replaces being put on the spot in an environment of supportive feedback with a professional public speaking trainer. A good public speaking trainer will understand the nuances of all business communication scenarios and be able to give you practical advice that will take your career to the next level. When you realize that everything you say in business requires public speaking skills, you will feel more comfortable if you embrace it and leverage it; not fear it.

The head of TED, Chris Anderson, makes a very good point about public speaking...

“There is no secret formula that you must follow to succeed, and there are countless ways to deliver a great presentation”.

To recapitulate, audience members do not want a perfect speaker with no flaws or mistakes. Instead, they respond well to honesty, and you showing your personality. Even though confidence is powerful, so is vulnerability, so do not be scared to slip up. More than anything, the audience is interested in your message and not just watching a recitation, however flawless!





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