Find Your Voice Without Lighting your Pants on Fire
Many years ago, I “volunteered” to give a talk at my company’s user group meeting. That year, 6000 people were expected to attend. My presentation was about an obscure program in the software that formatted slides in the UNIX operating system. I had been tinkering with it, so I wasn’t too worried about pulling a presentation together. Then, I came across a feature that would not work, no matter how much I worked with it. I read everything about the program and followed all the instructions, but I just could not get it to work.
As the date approached, I became more and more anxious. Then, I heard a story that completely shifted my state. At large conference the previous year, a presenter was nervous and he was a smoker. He lit his cigarettes with his favorite lighter, which he kept in his pocket. During his talk, he flicked his Bic – a lot – and he set his pants on fire. It was the most talked-about presentation that year and for many years to come.
If you are nervous or anxious before a presentation, find a way to shift your thinking. When you are in a fearful state, your old brain takes over and you lose access to your neocortex – your thinking brain. Flip your old brain switch and regain access to your thoughts and your ideas with laughter, by thinking about someone you love, or remembering a major accomplishment.
Here are some more ways to make your talk a success.
- Breathe consciously. When you are anxious or nervous, the impulse is to take shallow breaths. This transmits your fear to your listeners, and you won’t get agreement on your message. If you remember to breathe deeply, it will improve your communication by building your confidence and keeping you present.
- Speak conversationally. If you are focusing, listening, and responding to people, you will talk at a normal speed. Speaking slowly and clearly will help others understand you. This is especially important in interviews, on conference calls, and when meeting virtually.
- Provide value. Leave your audience with more than what they started with. Listeners pay more attention when they are learning something. Instead of just talking, provide information, tools, or strategies they can use immediately to improve their work. This will also improve their life.
Glossophobia, or fear of public speaking is more common than fear of death, heights, or snakes. It affects 73% of the population. As a project professional, your job depends on your ability to communicate and influence project teams, clients, users, and all your project stakeholders. If you are afflicted with glossophobia, practice these strategies and then take the mike.