Five Tips to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking

Posted by Barry Flanagan on Aug 2nd, 2008
2008
Aug 2

 

Fear of public speaking is extremely common. Even the most experienced speakers get nervous. Many beginning speakers are completely overcome with panic and anxiety. This one issue prevents more people from reaching their goal to be an effective speaker than any other in my opinion.

 

Overcoming this fear and panic is key to successfully communicating from in front of the room. If you do not appear confident to your audience, your audience will not likely feel confident in what you have to say. Recent research on mirror neurons suggests that we "we subconsciously put ourselves in the shoes of the person we’re observing and, accounting for relevant differences, imagine what we would desire and believe in that scenario".  If the audience senses your lack of confidence, many may infer the cause is that you do not believe in your own message. This can seriously undermine your message and chances for success.

 

Here are five ways to overcome your fear of public speaking -

 


  1. Be a Boy Scout – The Boy Scouts motto  is "Be Prepared". This is the most obvious method to overcome your fear. As I wrote in the Six Rs of Communication, it is essential to have a well defined result for both you and your audience. Answer the question "What’s in it for me?" for both you and the audience. Use this answer to guide you in your preparation of your visuals and remarks.  After you have created a crystal clear RESULT for your presentation, it is much easier to create your opening and closing, choose your main points, and build your content. Your result is what you want your audience to conclude (and act upon) when you are done. When you start at the conclusion, it is a much simpler task to create your opening, main points, and then tie everything back into that conclusion. 

 

You (and your audience) are much more likely to reach your destination if you know exactly where you are going. With a clear picture in your mind of both your destination and the route to reach that destination, you are much more likely to feel confident. If you do not know exactly where you are going or how to get there, fear of getting lost (and looking foolish or unprepared) is much more likely.

 

     


     2. Own the Room – Prior to your scheduled time to speak, make sure to find time to survey the room where your session will take place. Verify where you can stand and walk, and where you cannot. If you plan to use a flip chart or white board, make sure you know where the markers (and erasers) are. If there is a projector and your are showing Powerpoint slides, test the projector with your laptop. Ensure your your screen resolution works with the projector. Verify you can power on the projector and project your slides on the screen. If you will be using a microphone, ensure it works and that you know how to power it on and off. Do a sound check (especially if there is an AV crew present). The goal here is to eliminate as many surprises as possible. Ensure that you feel comfortable in the space where you have to speak so that you are not distracted by the environment.

     


    3. Work the Room - Whenever possible you should try to meet as many members of the audience as possible. Meet and greet people who will be in the audience and dig down into why there are attending the session. Make sure you really understand their answer to the all important question "What’s in It for Me?". The primary goal here is to have as many friendly faces as possible in the audience. Remove the fear of speaking in front of strangers by minimizing the number of strangers.

    As you become more experienced, this technique can help you take your presentations to the next level. Probe for back ground stories that you can use a part of your session. One or two well told stories that are specifically relevant to the audience will increase both your credibility and rapport with the audience.

     


    4. Breathe like a baby – If you follow the first three tips, your anxiety and fear of public speaking should be greatly reduced. You may still get last minute jitters. I have given well over 700 presentations and I still get jitters. This next technique helps me eliminate those last minute butterflies in my stomach. Diaphragmatic breathing is a great way to release tension and quickly relive stress and anxiety. "To breathe diagrammatically, or with the diaphragm, one must draw air into the lungs in a way which will expand the stomach and not the chest. It is best to perform these breaths as long, slow intakes of air – allowing the body to absorb all of the inhaled oxygen while simultaneously relaxing the breather."

     

     

     

    I combine this technique with a simple mediation technique I learned many years ago. I place my left hand on my stomach just below my rib cage and breathe in deeply. I push my stomach against my hand to ensure I am using the diaphragm. As I breathe in, I silently count to myself "Ten". As I breathe out, I push my stomach in, expand my chest and count "nine. I breathe in again as I push against my hand with my stomach and count "eight". Then breathe out and count "seven". I  continue this down to one. If I still need to relax further, I slide my hand an inch or two lower on my stomach and start counting down again from ten. I have shared this technique with many others and it has never failed to relax anyone who follows the steps.

     


    5. Use a Royal Entrance – I learned this final technique from a class mate in a presentation class in Dallas many years ago. This technique not only relaxes me, but it invariably puts a smile on my face and pumps me up.

    Just before you get up to speak, imagine a trio of trumpets is playing a royal fanfare for you as if you were a king or queen entering the room. Just play this quickly inside your head. Here is an example -

     

     


    [youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NkD0MxNY_Bw]

     


     

     

 

With these five techniques you can overcomes that fear of public speaking and transform into a much more confident, capable and successful speaker.

 

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More Bad Powerpoint

Posted by Barry Flanagan on Feb 29th, 2008
2008
Feb 29

 

After my last post on The Technical Speakers Crutch, I have a couple more follow up videos I wanted to add to have them in the archives. Two more great examples of bad powerpoint from YouTube are below…

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[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZVFcagL1nsA]

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[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HLpjrHzgSRM]

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You may have seen the last one before, before it it such a great laugh (and so true!) it is worth watching again.

 

 Mike Futty at PowerfulPresenationsAlliance.com wrote an article called "Death by PowerPoint" that has some interesting survey numbers and a comparison of slides by two famous CEO’s. Here is a snippet -

 

 

 

 

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The Technical Speaker’s Crutch

Posted by Barry Flanagan on Feb 28th, 2008
2008
Feb 28

The first few years I spent as a frequent technical speaker, I desperately clung to a crutch every single time I stood up in front of the room to speak. I feared that without my crutch I would not only be crippled and unable to stand, but deaf and mute as well. I could not imagine speaking in front of a group without my crutch, and lived in fear of losing it. I have seen many other technical speakers who use the exact same crutch, and are paralyzed by that exact same fear. The marketing name for the crutch is Microsoft PowerPoint.

 

PowerPoint is not designed to be a crutch for speakers, it just happened that way. It is so easy to use PowerPoint as a way to design your talk, remember your points, and as a hand out to the audience afterwards. Fortunately, my manager at the time (George V, great guy) thought I could be saved and arranged for me to take a training class. The first time I went to a Presentation Skills class by Michelle Murphy, she opened my eyes to the possibility that it is "possible to walk and talk in front of a group of people without slides". A few people in the room audibly gasped in horror when Michelle said this. I have to admit, I cringed at the thought. I pictured myself stuttering and stammering my way through a talk, constantly looking back for my crutch and not finding it there. I imagined it would I would think my crutch was still there behind me to help me stand, the way an amputee often imagines the lost limb is still there.

 

Michelle told us we should not use Powerpoint as the last step in a preparation process, not the first. She insisted that if you do not know your topic well enough to speak without slides, you had "no business being in front of the room".  She told us you should not "pack everything you know into the side deck" (another way of saying you have fight the curse of knowledge). Finally, she said you should "NEVER use the slides as a handout!" I think a few people in the class wanted to leave at that point. A few looked ready to just quit their jobs and try to find a new career.

 

I thought I had come a long way as a technical speaker, but I knew I constantly committed all three of these cardinal sins. Any time I had a presentation to give and I had to create the content, the first thing I did was open up PowerPoint to build a slide deck. Once in front of the room, I never read the slides, but I did look to them constantly for guidance. And I always built the slide content with the idea that I had to include every point in great detail so the audience could use it for later reference. I had never considered writing a seperate handout just for the audience.

 

The conventional wisdom as I understood it at that time was that slides were always used as the handout, and any slide deck that was NOT loaded with detail was not useful. Everyone used the slides as a reference point, and pointed to them constantly. Michelle went so far at one point to say "the screen is poison". It was very difficult to imagine presenting without ever referring to the the slides. 

 

Michelle started me down a very long road that day. If I had not been in her audience that day, I would likely still be leaning on that same crutch every single time I stood up in front of the room. Thankfully, Michelle started me on the way to recovery.

 

The real problem for most technical speakers is they don’t realize they have a crutch. They cannot imagine speaking in any other way. The crutch feels like a vital limb, and they cannot imagine speaking without it. The evidence of this is every where. I found some examples that prove this point.

 

The first thing I would like to point to is a site I found after another point Michelle made in her class.  "Would Churchill been nearly as inspirational during the battle of London with slides? Can you imagine Martin Luther King, Jr. with his back turned to the crowd in front of the Lincoln Memorial reading his bullet points? Would we remember the Gettysburg address if it was slideware?"

Apparently Michelle was not the only one who asked that last question. Peter Norvig wondered about Lincoln and slideware as well. He took his musings one step further -

 

Back in my hotel room I imagined what Abe Lincoln might have done if he had used PowerPoint rather than the power of oratory at Gettysburg. (I chose the Gettysburg speech because it was shorter than, say, the Martin Luther King "I have a dream" speech, and because I had an idea for turning "four score and seven years" into a gratuitous graph.) A Google search easily found the text of the Gettysburg address, and several articles echoing my frustration, including USA Today writer Kevin Maney’s PowerPoint obsession takes off, which notes that PowerPoint was banned at Sun, and includes the Lincoln idea: "Put another way, imagine if Abe Lincoln had PowerPoint for the Gettysburg Address. ‘OK, this slide shows our nation four score and seven years ago.’" But as far as I could tell, nobody had actually written and published a Gettysburg PowerPoint presentation. (Note: a reader pointed out that John S. Rigden had an article in the March 1990 issue of Physics Today entitled "The Lost Art of Oratory: Damn the Overhead Projector" that also used the Gettysburg Address concept. David Wittenberg and Susan Hessler were nice enough to send me copies.) I started up PowerPoint and let the "Autocontent Wizard" help me create a new presentation. I selected the "Company Meeting (Online)" template, and figured from there I’d be creative in adding bad design wherever possible. I was surprised that the Autocontent Wizard had anticipated my desires so well that I had to make very few changes. Four of the slide titles were taken directly from the template; I only had to delete a few I didn’t need, and add "Not on the Agenda" after "Agenda".

 

 

Peter speculates on how Lincoln would have opened his presentation -

 

And now please welcome President Abraham Lincoln.

Good morning. Just a second while I get this connection to work. Do I press this button here? Function-F7? No, that’s not right. Hmmm. Maybe I’ll have to reboot. Hold on a minute. Um, my name is Abe Lincoln and I’m your president. While we’re waiting, I want to thank Judge David Wills, chairman of the committee supervising the dedication of the Gettysburg cemetery. It’s great to be here, Dave, and you and the committee are doing a great job. Gee, sometimes this new technology does have glitches, but we couldn’t live without it, could we? Oh – is it ready? OK, here we go:

 

This is not meant to imply you should not use Powerpoint, of course. But you shouldn’t use it as a crutch.

 

Even very successful (and extremely wealthy) technical speakers are not aware of the crutch to which they cling – including Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer.

 

Photo from Long Zheng from a Steve Ballmer presentation.

Photo by Niall Kennedy

 

"Death by PowerPoint" is a fantastic presentation on SlideShare.net that highlights the problem -

 

 

At the risk of falling victim to the "Curse of Knowledge" in this blog post, there is one more short YouTube video I would like to add. The theme of the video is a 12 Step program to recover from Bad PowerPoint (presented by Dick Carlson at Ignite Seattle) -

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[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rrc4I3-n-9Q]

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Once I learned to avoid using PowerPoint as a crutch, I found myself invigorated and empowered as a speaker. That allowed the crutch to transform from a device that was essential to merely walk and talk to tool that helped me reach out and touch the audience.

 

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Great Tech Speakers on Video, Part IV

Posted by Barry Flanagan on Feb 26th, 2008
2008
Feb 26

 

The next speaker in this series is another from TED, Hans Rosling. This is an absolutely amazing speech about STATISTICS. Yes, statistics, amazingly enough. Hans opens up with a great story about his students, chimpanzees and preconceived notions about data. Then he laucnhes into his presentation using the amazing GapMinder software . Watch this amazing speech below (about 20 minutes long) below -

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Hans made a return to TED in 2007.

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Hans is again in rare form (grandma statistics is classic).

 

Andrew Dlugan wrote a fantastic review of the 2006 talk on his Six Minutes blog. Here is a quote -

 

Rosling employs GapMinder to display his statistics. This is a wonderful software tool for displaying data, but the real magic of this presentation lies in the techniques demonstrated by Rosling. These techniques are easy to do, but I’ve rarely (if ever) seen them all demonstrated so well in a single talk. The techniques are:

Rosling - Active gestures

  1. Explain the data axes

  2. Highlight subsets of data

  3. Dig deeper to unwrap data

  4. Place labels close to data points

  5. Answer the “Why?” questions

  6. Complement data with energetic delivery

 

 

 

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Garr Reynolds of Presentation Zen gives a very detailed review of the 2007 TED Talk by Rosling -

 

Data and information are not boring. The key is to select the appropriate (and accurate) data to support your message.  But it also matters how you bring the data alive, giving it context and meaning. One of the masters of displaying data in live talks is Swedish doctor and researcher, Hans Rosling. (You may remember Hans Rosling’s 2006 TED talk which I posted here last year with some others.)

Hans wows the 2007 TED crowd
In this video below from TED 2007, the Zen master of statistics makes a simple point in a very visual and memorable way: "The seemingly impossible is possible. We can have a good world." Hans showed with stats what is possible in the world, then he closes with a big, unexpected, and memorable finish (I actually had a hard time watching the ending, but it was effective).


Near the end he pauses and says: "But I have to get serious. And how do you get serious? You make a PowerPoint — you make bullets!" (audience laughs) The summary slide (which worked because he built it as he talked) was his "Homage to the Office package" he said.

 

 Hans’ demonstration at the end to prove his point that the "seemingly impossible is possible" is a fasntstic experitential metaphor and an incredibly memorable closing.

 

 

Rosling proves again that a presentation filled with numbers, statistics and data can be dynamic, engaging and very memorable when you use metaphor, vivid visuals, and relate the data to real life ("grandma statistics"). I highly recommend watching both of these talks when you have a chance.

 

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Why I Blog

Posted by Barry Flanagan on Feb 20th, 2008
2008
Feb 20

 

A few friends have asked me why I would add to my workload (which includes a corporate blog) by posting my own personal blog about public speaking. One obvious reason for me is that forcing myself to review my own process and method for speaking in the front of the room helps me continue to improve. While I have learned a great deal about speaking over the last eight years, I still learn something new every day. Each time I get up in front of the room I get valuable feedback that will help me the next time.

 

I also learn a great deal in the research for each post. As the Roman Philosopher Seneca once wrote "we learn by teaching". I likely would have never have seen Dick Hardt’s Identity presentation or the videos of Steve Riley if I wasn’t writing blog posts about great tech speakers. I may not have seen those amazing Lessig videos either. Each of those speakers and their videos hold new ideas and new techniques that I likely would have never learned if not for blogging about public speaking.

 

 

But that is not my only motivation. Back in May of 2000, I was sitting in a hotel lounge in Marietta, Georgia at about 7 pm after long day that included three separate presentations to customers and resellers in the Atlanta area. I was frustrated that I still did not feel comfortable with speaking in front of the room, and wondering if I ever would. My manager George V called me on my cell to try to keep my spirits up, but it was very difficult to see a future where I was comfortable speaking in front of a group of people. I sat at a small table drinking a beer and wondered to myself how I was going to solve this problem. As I was sitting there staring off into space, someone tapped me on the shoulder. Startled, I looked up to see a older man in his late forties with  salt and pepper hair, a gray goatee, and a white shirt with a dark blue tie.

"Pardon me." he said. "Have you seen a tall older gentleman in a white suit walk by here? I am supposed to meet him here and I am a bit early."

 

"No, I haven’t seen him." I replied.

 

"Well, at least I have a few minutes to relax." he responded.

 

I nodded and smiled as he turned and head to the bar. I heard him order two Miller Lites, then turn and head directly for my table.

 

"Do you mind if I join you?" he asked.

 

I was surprised he was so forward, but I said yes.

 

"You look like you could use some company, and I have a few minutes to wait." He asked me about my work, and I told him I was a newly hired System Engineer for a software company. He told me his name was Ed.  We exchanged some small talk, and he told me he was an SE himself back in the early eighties. He told me that hardest part for him was learning to become a better speaker.

"I am having a bit of trouble myself." I admitted.

 

"My manager back then gave me two pieces advice that I have never forgotten. First, the audience decides the meaning. Second, keep doing what works, change what doesn’t. If the meaning the audience gets is not what you intended, try something else.That’s it. I was constantly frustrated because I often felt like I was speaking in tongues. No one seemed to understand what our software did our why they would want it. I felt like I couldn’t get through to anyone. "

 

"Wow." I said. "I feel that same way almost every time. It is so frustrating." I replied.

 

"Once I stopped taking my failure to communicate personally and stopped trying the same old methods that didn’t work, I slowly began to get better and better results. Let the audience decide the meaning, pay attention to the response, and try something different if it isn’t the response you want. It is as simple as that." Ed replied.

 

"I never thought of it that way, but it makes perfect sense." We spent a few minutes talking over some specific examples, then the tall older man in the white suit walked up and tapped him on the shoulder.

 

"Well, it looks like our time is up. Thanks for letting me join you."

 

"Thank you Ed. I appreciate the advice."

 

Ed turned and looked me directly at me. "My grandfather always told me the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea are both fed from the River Jordan. The Sea of Galilee is full of life and surrounded by villages while the Dead Sea is literally dead and stagnant. The Sea of Galilee is full of life because it has an outflow, while the Dead Sea doesn’t.  The key to being vibrant and full of life is having an outflow. Remember that."

 

"I will." I said. Ed shook my hand and walked away.

 

 

I never saw Ed again, but I never forgot the lessons he taught me that day. That day was the beginning of my journey to becoming a more effective speaker. My idea for the post on "The Six Rs to Beat the Curse" is based on Ed’s advice. "The audience decides the meaning" is the basis for "Response", and "keep what works, change what doesn’t" became "Reflect" . All the rest of the Six Rs ultimately flowed from the lessons Ed shared with me that day. I share them now on this blog as my outflow, my key to "being vibrant and full of life" like Ed.

 

 

 

 

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