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Get the Facts About Fear of Speaking In Public from an Old Master

Get the Facts About Fear of Speaking In Public from an Old Master

Get the Facts About Fear of Speaking In Public from an Old Master

One of my favourite books about public speaking is called “The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking”. It is a 1962 rewrite by Dorothy Carnegie of the textbook her late husband Dale Carnegie wrote for his courses called Public Speaking and Influencing Men in Business.

So in 2021, the ideas originally put forward by Dale Carnegie would be approaching 100 years old. However, like his other moderately well-known book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, it’s amazing how well the principles have stood the test of time. Today I wanted to share four pieces of wisdom from the book with a few notes of my own.

You are not unique in your fear of speaking in public

Back then, Dale Carnegie estimated that around 80 – 90% of people suffer from stage fright. Most relevant modern research focuses on anxiety and public speaking as a source or trigger. Most studies end up at around 70-80% of people having some level of anxiety (ranging from mild to severe) in relation to public speaking.

A certain amount of stage fright is useful

Dale Carnegie pointed out that your heart beating faster and breathing becoming faster were natural responses to preparing for a challenge. He added that the trick is to keep these physiological responses within limits and they will make you capable of thinking faster and speaking with greater intensity.

These days we know a lot more about the science of what is actually happening in your body, but in a nutshell, he was spot on about controlling the severity of the response and directing the energy positively.

Even many professional speakers never lose all stage fright

Dale Carnegie offers one of my favourite lines by saying “Speakers who say they are as ‘cool as a cucumber’ are usually as thick-skinned as a cucumber and about as inspiring.

Many a time I’ve had people speak to me about my classes and say something like “I’m really lucky I don’t have any trouble with public speaking.” Then I hear them speak and they are certainly right about one thing…confidence is not their problem.

The chief cause of your fear is simply that you are unaccustomed to speaking in public

Dale Carnegie points out that for the beginner, learning to speak in public is a complex series of strange situations. He says the best way to make public speaking a joy is to get a record of successful speaking experiences behind you.

Which brings me back full circle to last week’s message. There is no substitute for stage time.

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There’s No Substitute for Stage Time

There’s No Substitute for Stage Time

There’s No Substitute for Stage Time

“I think it’s a fallacy that the harder you practice the better you get. You only get better by playing.” – Buddy Rich

Okay, I don’t think practising is a bad thing. I don’t think that Buddy Rich meant that either. I think what the great jazz drummer meant was that there are some things you can only master on a real stage. Similarly, sports coaches talk about the fact that there is no substitute for game time.

When it comes to public speaking, I certainly learnt that being in an environment where all you do is practise, just makes you great at practising. When it came to the real deal, it was frustrating, but at the same time enlightening, to discover that I was still nervous and anxious after so much time invested.

It was only once I started getting regular experience in front of real audiences, that I gradually became more confident. I learned to manage my physical and mental responses and become more aware of how I was interacting with the audience.

That is essentially how my training is intended to work these days. I give you some tools and strategies and a chance to try them in a safe environment. But then you need to go out and apply them in the real world – evaluate how it went – tweak and re-apply. Keep improving.

Don’t use practising as an excuse to procrastinate or as a crutch to convince yourself you are doing something, when deep down you know you’ve reached the point where you need to play to a real crowd to get better.

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Speak Naturally & Outshine the Overscripted

Speak Naturally & Outshine the Overscripted

Speak Naturally & Outshine the Overscripted

“Reciting lines is hard; making stuff up is much, much easier.” – Zach Galifianakis

I’m not sure about the context that Zach Galifianakis said this in but let me be clear, when I chose this quote I wasn’t thinking that you should literally make stuff up. However, I am a big fan of not necessarily knowing exactly what words are going to come out when you get up to speak.

Speaking is not acting. If you are going to script everything in order to get on stage or in front of a camera, you also need to learn to emote while recalling and reciting lines, and do it in a way that is believable i.e. acting. Personally, I am no Leo DiCaprio so trying to do that is fraught with danger – likewise for the 99.9% of people who aren’t skilled actors.

Reading is not speaking. When you read from a teleprompter app on your device it comes across exactly like you are reading from a teleprompter app on your device. Likewise, when you read from notes in front of an in-person audience, it may get you through the experience without messing anything up, but it is a huge barrier to connecting with those people.

What to do instead

For a start, if you’re not speaking from a position of knowledge you shouldn’t be there. If you’re not speaking on a topic you care about, you shouldn’t be there. Speak from the heart and speak from knowledge (or skill or experience or all of the above).

Know what you want to talk about but don’t get hung up on the exact words.

For a pre-prepared presentation, preparation should include organising your points and info so they flow. It should not include writing it out word-for-word.

For truly impromptu situations, have a system for organising your points in your mind.

Having said all that…

Come to think of it, I don’t agree with Zach Galifianakis. Speaking without reciting lines or reading is not easy at all. If it was, everyone would be able to stand up, or go in front of a camera, and speak naturally and confidently.

But not many people can because it’s hard, and it’s uncomfortable.

That’s exactly why if you can learn to do it and get comfortable, you will stand out – because you will exude genuine authenticity, trustworthiness and authority.

Photo by Matheus Bertelli from Pexels

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3 Ways Improving Your Speaking Skills is Like Making a Cake

3 Ways Improving Your Speaking Skills is Like Making a Cake

3 Ways Improving Your Speaking Skills is Like Making a Cake

1. It can get messy…and that’s ok

Everyone knows that when you make a cake you’re supposed to end up with a messy kitchen, otherwise you’re not having fun in the process right?

When you first start making an effort to improve your speaking skills it will often involve discomfort as you try to adopt a new mindset, learn to organise your content, and use your vocal variety and movements in ways that might seem strange at first.

Like anything, it will take time and practise and there will still be times when it won’t go smoothly. That’s okay.

One of the main purposes of doing a workshop or course, or having a coach, is to have the opportunity to try new things and mess up in a safe space where nobody is going to judge you.

2. There are some must-have ingredients

When you make a cake you need to add certain things like eggs to bind the other ingredients, milk to add moisture, and baking soda to make it rise. When you eat the cake, you can’t see these individual ingredients but you know they are there.

Likewise, effective speaking involves a combination of things that you might not be able to isolate individually but they need to be there.

For me, those ingredients are mindset, content, delivery and audience analysis.

If you don’t address your mindset, you can end up being overwhelmed by your nerves. What if you don’t make sure make sure the content is right? Or your delivery is underwhelming and you don’t take time to understand exactly what your audience needs? These are all things that can bring down the final product.

3. There needs to be a method to it all

When you make a cake not only do you need the essential ingredients, you also need to follow a process, aka a recipe, to get the desired result.

When improving your speaking skills, a good strategy will bring together all the essential ingredients to produce the desired outcome.

For me, that outcome is speaking with confidence and clarity, and connecting with your audience.


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Content or Technique? The Best Way To Step-Up Your Speaking Game

Content or Technique? The Best Way To Step-Up Your Speaking Game

Content or Technique? The Best Way To Step-Up Your Speaking Game

What’s the first thing to work on if you want to improve your public speaking?

Short answer

It depends on what your current strengths and weaknesses are.

Long answer

If starting from scratch most people focus on things that relate to their delivery such as managing nerves, voice, gestures and other body language. Indeed, much of the public speaking and presentation training out there is focused on performance technique.

The problems with a technique-only approach are:

  • Most people don’t have the skills to properly apply the techniques
  • It ignores the substance of the message

When people ask me to evaluate their speech, they are often surprised if I start with how they can improve their content instead of their delivery.

Here’s why sometimes that’s where you need to start…

If there is a problem with WHAT you are saying, you have huge problems before you even get started. 

The most common problems with content are:

  • Trying to cram too much information into the time allowed
  • Too much ‘cold’ information such as facts and figures, not balanced out with ‘warm’ content such as stories and examples to illustrate points
  • Lack of structure
  • No organised material – trying to ‘wing it’ and either rambling aimlessly or getting completely lost for words
  • The presenter actually has little knowledge of what they are speaking about
  • There are large gaping holes in the presenter’s argument

When the wheels fall off a presentation, it’s more often than not because the speaker has not connected with the content themselves, they haven’t considered their content from an audience point of view, or they straight up have no authority on the topic.

If you know what you are talking about and you have solid well-planned content, that in itself will give you more confidence when it comes to your delivery.

So, what about delivery?

Content and delivery are both important. However, so is the way you prioritise them…

If you are a paid professional speaker there is an expectation that you will deliver a polished performance. For everyone else, audiences will forgive a lot of flaws as long as you are giving them good information they can understand and relate to (content first got it?).

However if the flaws in delivery become a distraction from the message, then you have a problem.

The most common issues with delivery are:

  • Lacking enthusiasm – if you’re not interested in what you’re saying why would anyone else be?
  • Overly animated – trying too hard
  • Trying to imitate other speakers they have seen rather than being themselves
  • Speaking too fast
  • Speaking too loudly or too quietly
  • Excessive use of fillers – ums and ahs
  • The presenter talks to their PowerPoint slides instead of to the audience

Once we’ve dealt with those issues, we can then start looking at a range of basic tips that are within the abilities of the average person to help enhance your delivery and add impact to your well-structured message. These might include:

  • Using pauses for effect
  • Purposeful gestures
  • Varying the rate of speech and volume of your voice
  • Eye contact
  • Using visual aids, such as slides, for a purpose

These are simple things that can be very effective and that most people can master with a little practise – without being concerned with taking on a lot of performance techniques and trying to be someone they’re not.

So when it comes to effective public speaking, content and delivery are both important. However, so is the way you prioritise them…

Figure out what to say first, then concentrate on how best to say it as the best possible version of yourself – not like a bad actor trying to be someone else.

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How To Avoid Crashing & Burning When Using Humour

How To Avoid Crashing & Burning When Using Humour

How To Avoid Crashing & Burning When Using Humour

So three public speakers walk into a bar right…

In my opinion the bravest speakers of all are stand-up comedians. They go out on stage usually armed with nothing but a microphone and their wit. No music. No props. No second chances. They are expected to be funny and if they aren’t, the audience is quick to let them know.

For the rest of us, while some humour can help make our speeches and presentations more entertaining and engaging, it’s not expected.

Hang on a minute! But we’ve all heard that humour is the best way to win over an audience, right?

A few months ago I was at a conference and the organisers had flown one of the speakers in from Canada for the occasion. During the first part of his presentation he made a joke about jet lag and coffee which under most circumstances would be a throw away line that would elicit a smile and a nod from most people.

However he made two mistakes with it.

Firstly he built the joke up to be a lot funnier than it actually was. Secondly, he broadcast his punchline as a bullet point on a PowerPoint slide for about five minutes before he actually delivered it (HINT: the unexpected element is kind of important when it comes to humour).

When he finally got to the punchline, it was clear from his own actions that he was expecting a significant reaction from the audience. What he got was silence and it was obvious for the next ten minutes or so that he was completely rattled and you could feel the audience was uncomfortable as a result of watching him climb from the wreckage.

Yes, humour can help, but there’s always the risk that your audience won’t appreciate the joke. If you are already nervous, that’s not exactly going to make things easier.

Play To Your Strengths Rather Than Trying Too Hard

We all have certain strengths and weaknesses when it comes to humour. The first step is knowing what they are rather than trying too hard to be funny.

For example, I rarely ever tell pre-prepared jokes because I’m simply not a joke teller – I’ve figured that out the hard way having crashed and burned a couple of times myself. On the other hand I am fortunate that I can often see a situation and make a wry observation, deliver a mildly amusing one-liner, or recount a short anecdote that I’m reminded of.

So rather than try to stage something, I stay alert and look for those opportunities to do something ‘off-the-cuff’ because that suits my style.

What if I can’t do ‘off-the-cuff’ humour? Shouldn’t I still have some jokes up my sleeve?

I’m sure at some point most of us would have been to a wedding where ‘Uncle Bob’ has been appointed as MC and he has taken the opportunity to unleash his full repertoire of tired mother-in-law jokes that have left guests squirming in their seats.

In reality, simply being positive and enthusiastic is often all you need to do. A good mood is infectious and will soon spread throughout the room.

Apart from that, you can always tell an interesting story or express something heartfelt. These things are appreciated by people just as much as humour and are usually far less risky.

If doing a business presentation, making sure your content is actually interesting and relevant should be your first concern before you even start thinking about what jokes you’ll use.

The best advice I can offer is to know yourself and know your audience. If anything you are thinking of doing feels like it might be uncomfortable for either, leave it out.      

Contact David Wise

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