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How I Overcame My Fear of Public Speaking

I just got back from a week with my financial blogger/podcaster friends. FinCon was, as usual, the shot in the arm I needed to finish this year strong.

My talk, “How to Make More Money Without Doubling Your Workload,” was well received. I’m happy to say that it helped more than a couple people in the audience.

But I was also on a much larger stage. And I wasn’t given very much time to prepare.

I’ll show you the talk, but first, let me give you a little back story:

I got to the hotel a day before I needed to be anywhere, which turned out to be the right call. I was able to unpack, decompress, and take a call with a colleague. Once I got hungry, I texted my friend J.D. and asked if he wanted to grab a bite to eat.

“Sure,” he said, “we’re on a dinner break right now.”

So, we met in the hotel bar, and I ordered something totally healthy, nachos. As we were sitting, people came by to say hi. One of those people was Harlan, who runs the Plutus Awards ceremony. He joined us at the table, and asked me if I was planning on attending the awards ceremony.

I told him, “of course,” and then he came in with his pitch.

“We’re giving a community service award this year, and we’re giving it to Melanie. She’s done such a good job with her community, and we know she’s not coming this year, so we were hoping one of her friends would accept the award on her behalf.”

I nodded. “That sounds like a good idea,” I said.

“Will you do it?” he asked.

After only a slight hesitation, I agreed, and a few days later, I gave this speech, after practicing a few times, and without writing anything down:

Thanks, Monica, for recording!

Was it the best speech ever?

No.

Did it accomplish what I set out to do, which was to tell 1,000 people how awesome Melanie is?

Yes.

Now, I obviously don’t have the answers for “how to give the best speech ever,” but I do have a few tips for how I was able to push through my stage fright.

How to Overcome Your Fears of Public Speaking

Realize first, that people fear public speaking more than just about anything else (including dying, according to some apocryphal stories). So you’re in good company. But the universality of the fear doesn’t do much to keep you from being afraid in the first place. Interestingly, thinking of the starving children in Africa didn’t have much impact on how much lunch you finished when you were a kid, either.

So, never mind about that.

1. Remember, it’s About the Message, Not the Speaker

Unless you’re Tony Robbins, people didn’t come to hear you. And even if you are Tony Robbins, (which, if you are, hey! Thanks for visiting! Want to subscribe to updates?), your fame only holds your audience’s attention for a moment.

People are inherently self interested.

And you don’t want to waste anyone’s time.

For me, that meant instead of memorizing every line, or even writing down what I wanted to say, I went over the general outline six or seven times, with various people, and, even though I felt a little wobbly at first, I spoke from the heart.

I felt I had a responsibility. I had been selected to tell the audience why my friend Melanie won a community service award.

It wasn’t about me.

It was about getting this story out.

And if I stumbled? Or repeated myself?

It didn’t matter.

What mattered was that people understood what this award was about, and why my friend won.

This is true for absolutely every time you’re in front of a crowd.

Think about it:

The very best speeches at weddings tell fun/cute/interesting stories about the bride or the groom. The worst spend too much time talking about the speaker. If you’re asked to give a wedding toast, for goodness sake, don’t talk about yourself! Talk about your relationship to one of the people being honored, talk about how you met the other person in the relationship, and talk about how they’re embarking on an adventure together.

2. Teach, Don’t Present

This is step one, worded slightly differently.

But remember why you’re speaking in the first place.

Chances are, you’re not there to talk about your clothes, your past achievements, or how great you are. (Again, unless you’re still reading, Tony. Can I call you Tony?)

You’re there to teach.

People come to learn.

Or, maybe you’re a motivational speaker, and you’re there to … still teach.

In that case, your audience is there to be moved. To live differently.

To learn.

So the point isn’t to use the 52 point word. Save that for Scrabble.

The point is to get your point(s) across in such a way that your audience can absorb the material.

That often means using lower point words.

Repeating a point a few different ways.

Making sure your audience understands and is moved to action by the words you say.

It takes the pressure off, doesn’t it?

3. Imagine Everyone in the Audience Naked

You go up to the stage, and you get nervous. Suddenly, you remember to imagine the audience naked.

You look up.

It’s working.

Everyone is sitting down, which is not the most flattering pose for any naked person, especially the audience you see.

You recognize the person in the third row, and now?

You can’t make eye contact.

It’s too awkward.

They don’t know you well enough for you to see them like this!

Who the HECK has been perpetuating this particular myth?

Don’t do that.

Don’t ever do that.

What if someone in your FAMILY is in the audience?

That’s a line you do NOT want to cross!

4. Begin with the End in Mind

What do you want to have happen at the end of your speech?

Aside from a standing ovation, of course.

I’m talking (again!) about your audience.

What kind of transformation do you want to have happen by the time you’re done with your talk/presentation/session?

Here are some ideas:

  • Motivation. Your audience used to be unsure about some sort of particular something in their life, and after they hear you, they’re moved. They’re motivated. They’re ready to take action.
  • Learning about things. You’ve dropped some knowledge bombs in their lap, and they learned something. If your talk is short, they’ve learned just enough to keep going. To take the next step. Maybe you were talking about something that sounds too hard for the average bear, and you spoke for 30 minutes, breaking down the complex into small, easy-to-digest bites.
  • Learning about people. Or, maybe, like me, you were asked to talk about someone who you know is doing amazing things, and you want your audience to know the level of amazing they can achieve if they take any lessons from your friend Melanie.

Figuring out where you want to take people will help you set up the entire rest of your conversation.

Step 5: Do NOT Write Out Every Word

I used to give speeches where I wrote out every. single. word. I wanted to say.

Then, I’d practice.

Over and over and over again.

Reading my speech.

I bet, if you fancy yourself a writer, you’re tempted to do this too.

Hey, it’s natural.

You know how to write compelling words. You know how to keep people reading, and you know what to say that is sometimes funny, sometimes compelling, and always interesting.

But writing is not speaking.

“Wait a minute!” you might squawk. “I write like I speak!”

Oh yes, young Jedi.

I do too.

But when you decide to write a speech, you’re forgetting one teeny tiny detail.

You’re not an actor!

You’re a writer!

And, also you’re not a screenwriter, and you’ve never once had any training on how to write dialogue!

So if you’re anything like me, you’ll write something amazing (or semi-rad, let’s be honest), and your delivery

will

suck.

I’m telling you.

Never mind if you’ve memorized it. That’s almost worse!

Then what happens if you miss a word?

Again, if you’re like me, you just plain short circuit.

Then you try to recover, but sometimes you can’t.

Instead, make a few notes IF YOU HAVE TO, but don’t write out everything.

Practice until you’re comfortable with your talking points.

Then, go up to the stage, and speak from the heart.

If you’ve practiced enough, you’ll be great.

5. Remember, Everyone is Rooting for You

This one is important to remember, and so often overlooked.

Unless you’re a stand-up comedian, every single person in the audience (minus the ones who are already checked out and looking at their phones) is rooting for you.

Think about the last time you saw someone approach a microphone nervously.

Did you think, “Oh, wow, this person is wearing something weird and I think she’s going to be awful!”

OR

Did you think, “Oh, wow, this person looks nervous, but she can do it!”

Of course you thought something similar to the second scenario. We humans NEVER root against the person approaching the mic.

Especially if they look nervous.

That’s why even the lamest jokes get good laughs at conferences.

Everyone wants you to do well.

This might seem kind, and nice, and I guess it is, but again, this isn’t about you.

This is about them.

If they wanted to feel uncomfortable, they’d be watching Curb Your Enthusiasm. Instead, they’re in the audience where you’re on stage.

They don’t want things to get awkward.

And if you do well, things won’t be awkward. So they really are rooting for you!

Somehow that knowledge that everyone who is paying attention is sending positive vibes my way really helps curb stage fright.

Things You Can Accomplish via Public Speaking That Are Quite Difficult to Achieve Otherwise

Did you know?

Overcoming your fear of public speaking can get you free stuff?

Do I have your attention now?

Good. We’re of a similar mind.

I love sharing and teaching what I’ve learned from my experience in my online business.

But I’d be lying if I didn’t get a thrill out of getting paid to speak.

As of this internet printing, I haven’t been paid much to talk to crowds.

But I have gotten free conference tickets.

And swag.

And I get my name out there as “someone who knows a thing or two about a thing or two” and “someone I should be friends with in case there’s an opportunity for her to say nice things about me in front of an audience.”

Which, for now, is payment enough.

Nike’s motto used to be, “feel the fear and do it anyway,” and I think it’s fitting to end this post about public speaking on that note.

You’ll never “get over” being afraid of talking in front of a crowd. Heck, on my wedding day, I was afraid of falling down in front of a crowd.

But you can channel that fear.

Then you can remember:

  • It’s not about you
  • You have something important to teach
  • You can take the audience on a transformation, and most importantly
  • Everyone is rooting for you.

(Forget the naked audience. That’s just weird.)

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