Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from Gary Genard’s new book, “Fearless Speaking: Beat Your Anxiety, Build Your Confidence, Change Your Life,” which I reviewed here.
Please complete the sections below concerning the eight causes of speech anxiety. Answer the questions honestly and candidly. Your answers will help you know whether you have speaking fear, and identify the type of fear response(s) you experience. Knowing this information will help you zero in on the fear reduction technique best suited to your situation.
Feel free to answer, “Yes” to more than one of the eight causes. But once you’ve completed the entire exercise, go back and circle the name of the response that is strongest for you.
1. Learned Response
Are you still influenced by a negative public speaking or performance situation that happened to you in the past? Did something “teach” you that public appearances are unpleasant, risky, or even dangerous? Have you been afraid to get up in front of others since then?
2. Anticipatory Anxiety
Does the thought of giving a speech or presentation cause you excessive anxiety beforehand? Do you worry constantly about the upcoming speaking situation, lose sleep, have no appetite, or fixate on what’s coming?
Do you believe you know what your audience is thinking? Can you “hear” them in your own mind challenging and criticizing you? Are you certain that their facial expressions reveal their true feelings toward you?
4. Fear of Appearing Nervous
Is your greatest fear that everyone will see how nervous you are? In other words, do you think, “If I appear truly nervous, everyone will realize I don’t know what I’m talking about!” Is this your big concern?
5. Fear of Going Blank
Are you afraid that nervousness and anxiety will make you forget everything you’re supposed to say? Do you picture yourself having a brain freeze? Are you convinced you’ll be unable to say anything or that you’ll forget key parts of your message?
6. Lack of Skills
Are you convinced that you simply lack talent as a public speaker and shouldn’t be up there? Are you afraid that you’ll be “found out” and your secret will no longer be safe?
7. Physical Reaction
Is your biggest problem the physical responses you have when you speak in front of others? Is your principal complaint dry mouth, pounding heart, gastrointestinal distress, racing pulse, sweating, shaky voice, gasping for breath, or other symptoms?
8. Performance Orientation
Is your principal concern that you have to be an excellent speaker? Do you compare yourself to other speakers, telling yourself you have to come up to their level? Is your skill in performance your major concern?
Well done! Now that you’ve identified possible anxiety responses, you can focus on the technique best suited to deal with that particular response.
Editor’s note: To learn the specific techniques that will help you address your primary source of public speaking fear, check out Gary’s book, Fearless Speaking: Beat Your Anxiety, Build Your Confidence, Change Your Life.
Good physicians wouldn’t diagnose you before running blood work or conducting a physical examination. If they did, you’d probably run out of their office, never to return.
But far too often, public speaking experts address the fear of public speaking in exactly the same manner. They offer tips and strategies intended to help you reduce your anxiety—without making any effort to understand the genesis of your fear.
As examples, I recently worked with a woman who developed her fear of public speaking when a boss scolded her for her delivery style; a man I recently worked with developed his anxiety due to a childhood stutter that led to years of painful teasing. The root causes for both people were different—and they each required a different approach.
That’s what I appreciated so much about Gary Genard’s Fearless Speaking: Beat Your Anxiety, Build Your Confidence, Change Your Life. Like a good physician, Genard understands that many different factors can lead to a chronic fear of speaking and that those multiple causes require different solutions. (I’ll publish an excerpt from his book on that topic on Wednesday.)
Genard offers dozens of practice exercises throughout his book. As I read them, I realized that while I’d personally find some helpful, I’d find others less so. And that’s a good thing. By giving readers several options, each reader will be able to find the exercises that are most relevant for them. Happily, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach here. Every reader will use the book slightly differently.
One of Genard’s ideas, for example, is to use an acting technique called “The Actor’s Box.” In order to clear their minds before acting in a play, actors place their personal worries into an invisible box. They don’t try to ignore that they have anxieties—they just give themselves permission to store them in a box for the hour or so they’re on stage, allowing them to act without them—immediately after which they can retrieve the box (and their problems) again.
I had an interesting experience with “The Actor’s Box.” When I read about it in Genard’s book, I dismissed it as a little too “out there” for my taste. But a few nights later, when speaking to my wife about an unrelated topic, I suggested she try the technique. Turns out that idea stuck. And several of Genard’s techniques had a similar effect, continuing to work on me long after I had finished the book.
That approach is one of many. Genard offers a broad range of strategies from the traditional to the creative. He also ends each chapter with a real-life case study that brings his techniques to life.
I’ll give Gary the final word in this review, in which he beautifully sets the foundation for the pages that follow in his book:
“Almost universally, there is never as much danger or risk as you think there is concerning a speech or presentation. However, your anxiety leads you down a path with no exit, since you’re substituting your fears for more accurate measures to judge your success. So you create a false reality that’s actually much harsher than the actual speaking situation.”
Fearless Speaking is available in paperback here.
When we conduct our presentation training sessions, almost every speaker begins their presentation with a PowerPoint remote in their hand. By doing so, they send a signal to their audience right from the start: Boring PowerPoint show about to begin!
The vast majority of presentations shouldn’t open with a slide. The opening moments are a critical opportunity to forge a connection with your audience, which is best accomplished by speaking directly to your audience, not by clicking to a boring agenda slide.
That being the case, there’s no need to keep the remote in your hand at the beginning of a presentation. If you’re using PowerPoint, you can pick up the remote when you’re about to click to your first slide, which may not occur until several minutes into your talk. And if there are long gaps between slides, you should put the clicker down during those gaps as well.
This may seem like a small point, but it’s not.
Before our clients deliver their second practice speech, I ask them to put the clicker down. That small act often changes everything about their performance. They often move closer to the audience (they’re not tied to the screen), gesture more (they don’t have an object in their hand), and use the pronoun “you” more (they’re suddenly having a conversation with the audience, not presenting a slide). Simply putting the clicker down is a small move that offers almost magical powers.
My favorite clicker
Please don’t interpret this post as being anti-clicker. Remote controls allow speakers to move away from their computers and advance slides more subtly. I carry one in my backpack every day just so I always have one handy whenever I speak.
My only suggestion is that you don’t begin or end your presentation with one in your hand or hold it in your hand during long gaps without a new slide. Just place the clicker on a table or slide it into your pocket.
If you don’t already use one, I really like the Targus Laser Presentation Remote, pictured above. All you do is plug a small connector into your laptop’s USB port, and the remote instantly works. And since it’s less than $25, you won’t be too upset if you accidentally leave it behind.
Want to learn more about public speaking and PowerPoint? Check out our recommended reading list!
Spokespersons may encounter a few additional media formats. Be sure to familiarize yourself with these five possibilities:
1. Editorial-Board Meetings
Many newspapers have editorial boards, which are composed of a small group of editors who write the editorials, or “official viewpoints,” that appear in each morning’s paper. The editors who pen them are typically not news reporters (whose reporting is supposed to avoid expressing personal viewpoints). Editorials are different than “op-eds,” which are usually written by members of the community.
Meetings with editorial boards are opportunities to influence the editors to adopt your viewpoint. Treat these meetings the same way you would a news interview: anything you say can be quoted, and some editorial board meetings may be audio- and/or videotaped. Some editors ask aggressive questions, especially of spokespersons who represent a controversial brand or idea, so prepare thoroughly for your meeting.
2. Deskside Briefings
Deskside briefings are similar to meetings with editorial boards, but are usually one-on-one exchanges with an individual journalist at his or her office (hence the name “deskside”) rather than with larger groups. The casual and often friendly nature of deskside briefings can lead spokespersons to stray off their messages, so remember to treat everything you say as a quotable comment.
3. Walk and Talks
Have you ever seen a television interviewer conduct an interview while walking down a street or hallway with the interviewee? Some reporters are fond of conducting interviews as “walk and talks,” since they tend to relax the person being interviewed and are more visually interesting than a typical in-studio interview.
This can be a difficult format, since you have to focus on where you’re walking in addition to relaying your message. Walk slowly—and if you find yourself getting distracted, stop walking for a moment and turn toward the interviewer while making a key point.
Some talk shows, including daytime chat programs, ask guests to do a demonstration, or “demo.” Chefs show viewers how to cook lasagna, home decorators demonstrate how to inexpensively design a living room, and physicians teach people how to perform a self-examination.
Delivering a demo in just a few short minutes can be a major challenge. Do several on-camera practice rounds in advance to get your timing and delivery down, and be prepared to handle any unexpected moments that occur.
5. Comedy Shows
One thing I’ve learned through the years is that almost everyone thinks they’re funny. So when they appear on a late-night talk show such as The Tonight Show or The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, their inclination is to try to crack a joke or two. It’s usually a bad idea.
Unless you’re a comedian, it’s usually best to avoid competing for punch lines. Stephen Colbert, host of Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report, even tells his guests beforehand to play it straight. Let the comedian do the jokes—comedy isn’t as easy as it looks. Just bring your good humor, a warm smile, and a willingness to go along with the joke.
Last year, I published a post containing some of my least favorite words and phrases. Dozens of readers commented on that post and added their own entries to the list—so in today’s post, I’m compiling the words and phrases you detest the most—and adding a few new ones of my own.
1. Happy Memorial Day: In the United States, Memorial Day is the day we set aside to honor the men and women who died while serving in the military. For many people, it’s a somber day of remembrance and appreciation, but for others, it’s little more than a reason to enjoy a long holiday weekend. “Happy Memorial Day” is not only a contradictory phrase (it’s like saying “Happy Funeral!”), but it’s disrespectful to anyone mourning a loss.
2. Utilize: This is one of those rarely necessary, pompous-sounding words. As reader John Barnett wrote, “I really hate ‘utilize’…for some reason government and academic writers love [that word] in order to make something sound very official and important…So I ask: what’s wrong with ‘use?’”
3. “With all due respect”: Reader scottinapac described this set-up phrase perfectly: “A business professional’s way of teeing up before taking a whack.” When I worked for Ted Koppel at Nightline, I remember all of us in the control room bracing ourselves whenever he started a question to a guest that way—we knew whatever he said next was going to be devastating.
4. Nazi: The word Nazi should be used to describe the fascist ideology that led to the slaughter of 11 million innocent European Jews, communists, gays, and others—including one million children. After Jerry Seinfeld labeled a grumpy chef “The Soup Nazi,” it seemed like the word started being used to describe almost anything (as an example, I see the term “grammar Nazi” regularly). My concern is that using the term broadly diminishes the true meaning of the word. And I can’t imagine how my family members who lost loved ones during or survived the Holocaust greet such a usage of the word.
5. “You know”: This piece of verbal filler annoys Brian Chandler, the president of Commonwealth Public Relations: “The phrase ‘You know’ is being used all over the place in interviews and by talk show hosts. It’s worse than saying ‘um.’” Suzanne Thornton agrees, writing, “I am appalled when a speaker begins or ends every sentence or comment with, “you know.” Caroline Kennedy once used the phrase 138 times during one interview—and it made her a target of mockery for the New York tabloids.
6. “At the end of the day”: Reader Barbara Quayle nominated this phrase, as did Terri, who said the term is vomit-inducing for her. Urban Dictionary is even more blunt, describing it as a “Rubbish phrase used by many annoying people.” At the end of the day, this phrase is unnecessary. Most sentences can stand alone just fine without it.
7. “Finally, and most importantly”: Every time I hear this phrase, I wonder why the speaker chose to bury the lead. There may be times when it makes sense to do so, but I typically find that the speakers who say this just sequenced their presentations badly.
8. Think outside the box: Wikipedia says that this phrase, thought to have derived “from management consultants in the 1970s and 1980s,” usually “refers to novel or creative thinking.” See the problem there? The phrase is so overused as to no longer be novel or creative—so if a management consultant is still using it, it’s a sign that their thinking may be stale.
9. (S)he gave 110 percent: This phrase is often heard in the sports world, intended to convey a sense than the athlete gave more than they were capable of. That, of course, is impossible. If the athlete gave it their all, it suffices to simply say that.
10. Very unique: As a reader named Lorrie says, “Unique means one of a kind, so can something be ‘very’ one of a kind? That one will drive you crazy listening to sports and news broadcasters.”
11. Going forward: Reader Wendy Vreeken writes, “I believe the phrase ‘going forward’ deserves special recognition. Gag worthy.” Kelly agrees, noting that “Going forward…drives me crazy because we all know we can’t return to the past.” Instead of telling an audience what you’ll do “going forward,” just tell them what you plan to do.
12. Hate: Given the title of this post, this may seem like a surprising entry. I don’t love the word hate, but the biggest problem with the word is that it’s a bit vague. There are many more descriptive shades of the same sentiment that add meaning and color, such as “loathe,” “despise,” and “abhor.”
What words and phrases do you detest? Please leave them in the comments section below, and you may be included in a future edition of this series.
A grand jury indicted Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice in March for third-degree aggravated assault. The indictment stems from an incident that took place in February, in which Rice allegedly knocked out his then-fiancée, now wife, Janay Palmer.
The video below, posted by TMZ, appears to show Rice dragging his unconscious fiancée out of an elevator.
The National Football League announced last week that it would suspend Rice for the first two games of the season—a penalty that many football fans, women, and other humanoids who care about things like not abusing women—found infuriatingly unserious.
For context, the NFL has suspended dozens of players for four games or more for violating the League’s drug policy. Smoke a joint? Miss four games. Knock your soon-to-be-wife out cold? Just two.
Rice’s boss—Baltimore Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh—responded to the controversy last week with a flip tone that only served to inflame the situation:
”There are consequences when you make a mistake like that. I stand behind Ray, he’s a heck of a guy, he’s done everything right since, he makes a mistake, alright? He’s going to have to pay a consequence.”
Calling Rice’s conduct a “mistake” that was committed by a “heck of a guy” was tone-deaf—one wonders if Harbaugh would have given domestic abusers Ike Turner, Charlie Sheen, and Chris Brown the same benefit of the doubt (probably not, unless they could run for a touchdown). But his concluding comment was the reason I named him this month’s worst video media disaster:
”I think it’s good for kids to understand that it works that way, and that’s how it works. That’s how it should be.”
Give us a break, Coach. Don’t try to wrap this incident within a virtue. The only lesson you and the league have taught kids is that you will be welcomed back to the game with open arms by your coaches and teammates—and receive millions of dollars in 2014—as long as you sit out for two weeks.
If there’s any lesson here for kids aspiring to become a member of the NFL, it’s that it would be less consequential to beat your wife than it would be to smoke a joint.
Here’s an exercise you can do that shows why his response failed: Press play on the two videos above simultaneously. Does Harbaugh’s response seem even remotely congruent with the video of Rice dragging his lover off the elevator? Or does it come across as blithely dismissive?
What should Harbaugh have said? How’s this:
“Domestic abuse is a serious situation, and our team has absolutely no tolerance for it. Ray needs to pay a price for his actions—and he will not be welcome back onto this team until he does. People may debate the severity of his suspension, but what’s not up for debate is that fact that we agree wholeheartedly that he deserves to be punished.”
What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
I recently attended the bat mitzvah of a good friend’s daughter.
My friend made a few remarks at the reception—and during his comments, he mentioned that he was nervous to speak given that I, a presentation trainer, was in the audience. “I had a nightmare that Brad wrote a story for his blog that had the five biggest mistakes from my speech,” he quipped.
It turns out that he had nothing to worry about. He did a terrific job and infused his speech with good humor (one highlight came when he told the 13-year-old boys interested in courting his beautiful daughter, “Gentlemen, I look forward to getting to know you over the next few years.”).
But he’s right that I’m always watching other speakers—not necessarily to be critical, but to learn from them. And that means that I almost never attend a boring presentation.
Clients leaving our training sessions often remark that they’ll never watch a presentation the same way again. Instead, they’ll pay closer attention to every speaker they watch, noting why the good parts worked and why the bad parts didn’t. They no longer play the role of passive audience member; instead, they remain actively engaged from start to finish.
The next time you attend a “boring” presentation, conduct a mental exercise and ask yourself these types of questions: If I had to present the same information, what would I do differently? Would I have used a more compelling open, a better-designed PowerPoint slide, a group activity, or something else? Would I have abandoned the lectern, conveyed more enthusiasm, or engaged the audience with a topic for discussion?
If you approach attending “boring” presentations in that manner, you’ll never be bored again. But you will learn—and you will improve as a speaker.
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I recently received this email from the communications director for a major league sports team:
“What is your opinion on a speaker (in our case it’s usually the head coach after games) addressing questions by naming each reporter before the answer or finding a spot within the answer to name the questioner? I hear writers talk about it, how it shows the speaker cares about the media or is making an effort to connect with them more than just spewing a quick answer. Do you think a speaker receives better coverage when naming the reporter in his answer than just to answer the question? I’m torn on it because:
1. My head coach will have to learn each reporter’s name (meaning the non-beat writers), and the reporters who cover us change quite often.
2. It distracts from the answer sometimes. Fans might think, “As a viewer, do I really care that Joe from the local newspaper asked the question? I’m a fan of the team, he should address me too.”
I’ve always been conflicted about this topic for the reasons the emailer stated. In The Media Training Bible, I wrote that:
“Many media trainers teach their trainees to call reporters by their names, arguing that doing so helps forge a warm connection with the interviewer. Perhaps that’s true. But it comes at too high of a price. When you call reporters by name, it makes it clear to the audience that you’re speaking to the reporter, not with them.”
Although I believe that advice is generally sound, does it always apply?
It definitely applies to taped sound bite interviews, in which the person conducting the interview may be a behind-the-scenes producer. If you say that person’s name during the interview, the news station will probably be forced to edit it out—or drop that quote altogether.
But does it apply to a live press conference?
On one hand, naming reporters might help make the reporter feel valued. Reporters may even want to edit their name into the piece to show that they’re the one who asked the question (and let’s face it—hearing their name may also satisfy their ego).
But on the other hand, if the head coach doesn’t know a few people, it will become abundantly clear to everyone watching that they don’t know the reporter. In addition, reporters from competitive outlets may not want to use otherwise great quotes that name their competitors. Plus, as the emailer suggested, it may interfere with the connection the coach should be making with the viewers and fans outside of the room.
The emailer and I would both like to learn from you on this one. Please select an option from the poll above—and leave your more complete thoughts in the comments section below.