Public Speaking

To many people, public speaking is their No. 1 fear. Getting up in front of an audience can make your blood pressure go up and your palms sweat. Why is this?

The fear is self-induced. Being in the spotlight increases your exposure which can increase your feelings of being judged badly, humiliated, or not as good as someone else. It’s a mind game, a perception that can be changed to further your career aspirations. According to Matthew Cossolotto, author of HabitForce and president of Ovation International which provides speechwriting and coaching services, the first secret to lowering the public speaking terror is to eliminate the public factor.

“Speaking in front of an audience requires the same ability as speaking to your best friend, your co-worker, or your spouse,” Cossolotto says. “Let’s not call it public speaking. Let’s call it something else. How about just plain old speaking. Most people can handle that.

“After all, speaking is something we all do quite comfortably and effortlessly every day. We talk with our friends and loved ones all the time without experiencing shortness of breath or a racing heartbeat.”

Speaking is a natural act for most human beings, try getting some to stop. But putting the “public” label on a certain kind of speaking is the heart of the problem, according to Cossolotto. “As soon as you call it public speaking you’re fighting an uphill battle. The infamous P-word raises unrealistic expectations, increases stress, and generally elevates the terror alert to dangerously high levels.”

Keep it conversational

Cossolotto says taking the public concept out of the picture reduces the stress and the threat factor. Speaking to audiences with the same ease as conversing with friends is the approach he recommends.

Companies and organizations such as Dale Carnegie Training and Toastmasters recommend this too. Dale Carnegie Training, based on the writing of Dale Carnegie, offers training programs to increase effective communication and presentation skills along with management courses. Toastmasters is an organization that meets regularly to enable people to practice and develop speaking skills. Even Bill O’Brien credits Toastmasters for making him a better speaker.

Focus on one person

By speaking to one person in the audience you can keep yourself in a conversational mode. One-on-one eye contact with an individual member of the audience will make you a more comfortable and effective speaker (See sidebars.). The real you is evident, not a nervous, detached, stressed-out version of you.

The other side of this is taking the focus off yourself. Focus on your audience, how they’re responding to your message, what they’re wearing, and not on how nervous you are.

Supportive audience

Realize that the audience wants you to succeed. They want you to be comfortable, informative, entertaining, and authentic. And you’ll perform much better if you believe the audience supports you.

Cossolotto recommends a three-step process to shift from stage fright to stage delight called the Three Rs: recognize, reject, and replace. Recognize the fear by acknowledging that it exists. Reject the fear by repeating to yourself that there is no such thing as public speaking. And replace fright with delight by shifting your focus from being self-conscious to being support and connection conscious.

“Knowing that the audience supports you allows the real you to show up,” he says. “The two go hand-in-hand. Self-consciousness stifles joy and delight and is the underlying cause that generates fear and anxiety.”

Practice, practice, practice

Do yourself, your career, and your audiences a favor. Enhance your presentation skills by practicing. Join Toastmasters or volunteer to speak at a school or training seminar. It will give you the opportunity to practice your skills and share your knowledge and enthusiasm for aviation. And it will build your self-confidence which will improve your career advancement.