We’ve all heard the usual statistics about the fear of public speaking, in that people fear it even more than they fear death! A little harsh I think but there you go.
Personally, I can understand that feeling of fear when it comes to public speaking. The shakes, the dry mouth, the sweaty palms and of course, the absolute dread of freezing on stage, in front of everyone!!
In fact, why would you even consider public speaking or making a presentation to a large group at all? Well, I can totally empathise. But the thing is, people who master a fear of public speaking more often than not develop stronger career opportunities, (Recent stats suggest fear of public speaking has 10% impairment on your wages & 15% impairment on your promotion opportunities). People who possess these skills are perceived as confident and assured, the kind of people you want representing your business. Having that skill can give a great impression of what you as an organisation are about. Equally, sometimes the fear of being seen as the opposite, of being awful on stage, and giving the ‘wrong’ image is the single thing that holds us back from public speaking or giving that presentation to a group. The dreaded ‘fear factor’ takes over and we hold back, not moving forward and secretly envious of those that seem to make public speaking look easy.
I remember a particular occasion when, in my role as managing director of our events company, I decided it was time for me to face my fears of public speaking (how hard could it be?) and do the introduction and welcome presentation to the audience at one of the largest awards ceremonies organised by my events team. I had often addressed group staff presentations at various times during the year and didn’t have a problem with it, so surely it wasn’t that different. However, as the guests arrived (it was a black tie and formal event) I became more nervous and realised it was significantly different. As cliché as it sounds, my palms started getting sweaty, the mouth started to go dry, and I even thought of changing the running order of the night at the last minute to avoid me having to stand on stage!
In any case, with hands shaking (I mean literally shaking!) I decided to push on as 400 people in black tie and formal dress took their seats. I walked out on stage and the spotlight sparked up, shining directly on me at the podium.
People immediately stopped talking and just looked at me, as I stood there all alone on stage...this was it. It was at that exact moment, I decided to have a fully-fledged discussion with my inner voice.
‘What the hell are you going to do now, Tony, everyone’s looking at you! For the love of God man, say something!’. And finally, ‘what if I freeze, right now, what would happen’?
All this was happening while I stood there on stage, under the spotlight. It felt like 10 minutes had already passed, but actually it was about 3 seconds, and then I simply said to myself, ‘Right then, here goes’ and launched with, ‘Good evening ladies and gentlemen, you’re all very welcome to tonight’s award ceremony…..’ and I was away. I finished the speech I had rehearsed for a more than a month. It was only a four or five minute speech, talking about the awards, thanking guests, judges, participants and so on and at the end of it, rather than trying to rush off stage, I found I actually wished I had more to say! I was starting to enjoy it. I noticed early that nobody threw their bread rolls at me, no on shouted ‘get off’ and funnily enough, during the course of that evening, so many people I had never met before, came up to me to introduce themselves, and either talked business or just to say hi, or compliment me and our team on hosting such a wonderful event.
It was both a nerve wracking and rewarding experience. I realised I wasn’t dead, I wasn’t terrible and I could only get better. Making speeches in front of people is arguably even more important today as communications are vital for impression and credibility and confidence. If you get the chance to develop your public speaking or presentation skills I would urge you to go for it. Nobody has ever regretted improving their ability to stand in front of a crowd to speak with confidence!
Tony Cantwell - Chief Executive - CMG Professional Training