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Public Speaking: The #1 Fear

You Can Manage Your Fear If You Just Do A Little Preparation.

By Steve Schumacher

My first public speaking experience was probably the worst anyone can imagine. I was asked to give a speech on school spirit to my high school classmates at an assembly. As I walked out onto the auditorium stage, all of my buddies were in the first row laughing at me, calling me names, and making a bad situation even worse.

I walked up to the microphone and accidentally stepped on the base of the microphone stand, causing the microphone to hit me in the face. The entire auditorium erupted in laughter. I composed myself, began my speech and promptly forgot what I was going to say.

Of course, this caused the audience to laugh even harder. I finally managed to finish the speech and walk off stage feeling like I was a miserable failure.

Did I let that experience keep me from ever speaking in public again? Absolutely not. In fact, speaking in front of groups has been a major part of my career ever since that horrible first experience. That experience taught me a few things about public speaking that I have incorporated into my presentations.

If you are looking for ways to not be nervous when speaking in front of groups, forget it. You will always be somewhat nervous in that situation.

A little anxiety helps us do our best. The following tips will help keep the butterflies manageable and make your presentations ones that you and your audience will feel great about.

  • Plan with the audience in mind.
    Think of the audience as your customer and it is your job to serve their needs. In your preparation think of the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me). They are all wondering what you are going to tell them that is of value.
  • Use humor.
    Laughter is something we all have in common. If you can get the audience laughing it will calm you down a bit. Be careful, though; something that is funny to you may not be funny to others. Use humor sparingly and only where appropriate. The best kind of humor is when you make fun of yourself which shows that you are human.
  • Tell stories.
    The odds are the only thing that people will remember from your speech is the stories. Tell stories that illustrate the points you are trying to make. I use the following formula throughout my presentations: Make a point, give an example, and then tell a story. If you use that formula throughout your talk, it increases the odds people will remember.
  • Prepare and rehearse.
    This is tried and true. Outline your speech well in advance. Make sure there is a solid introduction and summary. Stand in front of a mirror to rehearse. Watch your body language. Use your hands to emphasize key points. Think about what you will wear in advance also. The audience will key in on how you look when speaking, so do not make it a distraction. If you have someone you trust, present to them in advance and ask for honest feedback.
  • Use PowerPoint sparingly.
    PowerPoint is a wonderful tool but it is too often used as a crutch. DO NOT put your entire presentation on the slides. Only use PowerPoint to illustrate a point you are making. Limit the number of slides you have to six or less.

If you have too many slides, you will not engage with your audience. The number one criticism I hear of presentations is that the presenter used too many slides and simply read them out loud. You can provide more detail in handouts. DO NOT put complicated graphics on slides, put them in the handouts.

  • Touch, turn, talk.
    When you have a slide on the screen, touch it with a pointer or your finger, turn back to the audience, and then start talking. That way you won’t be talking to the screen, losing your audience. If you put just a few words on a slide, you will not be tempted to read it.
  • Manage the time.
    When you are preparing, put enough information together that equals about 1/2 to 3/4 of the time you are allowed. Why? Most presentations go way too long, and people love finishing early. NEVER go longer than the time you are given.
  • Handouts.
    If you have a lot of detail, give it to the audience in handouts. Distribute the handouts after you are done speaking. If you give them out before you start talking, people will be reading instead out listening to you.
  • Purpose, process, payoff.
    These are the three steps you should use in your introduction. Tell the audience WHY you are speaking to them, HOW your presentation will unfold, and the PAYOFF FOR THEM in listening to your presentation. Your introduction should take no longer than one minute.

Business is full of presentations. We are either involved in them as a part of the audience or as a presenter. If public speaking is a regular part of your job, make it an objective to become the best speaker in your organization, a speaker that people look forward to hearing. Find a public speaking workshop to help you hone your skills. It will be worth it for both you and your employees.

Steve Schumacher is a management consultant, trainer and public speaker with more than 25 years of experience in numerous industries throughout North America, including aggregates operations. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..