The Eight Causes Of Public Speaking Fear

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on August 13, 2014 – 6:02 am

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.

Fearless Speaking Cover

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?

3. Mindreading

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?

Gary Genard Headshot

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.

 


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Just Do It: Put The Clicker Down

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on August 7, 2014 – 6:02 am

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.

 

PowerPoint Clicker

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!

 


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How To Never Attend A Boring Presentation Again

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on July 30, 2014 – 6:02 am

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.

Boring Seminar

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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Say This 10 Times: “I Am Not A Wikipedia Page!”

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on July 22, 2014 – 9:00 pm

“Our company was founded in 1922.”

Whenever I hear a speaker say something like that, I think, Who cares? That piece of information, presented without context, could lead the audience to have one of two reactions:

1. “Wow, they’ve been doing this a long time. They must know what they’re doing.”

2. “Wow, they’re old. I wonder if they’re a traditional company that’s too slow to embrace change.”

I often tell speakers to stop being their company’s Wikipedia page by merely listing factual information. Their job during a presentation isn’t to list facts, but to create a useful context into which those facts fit. 

 

Wikipedia

In the above example, the speaker should have said something closer to this:

“Our company was founded in 1922. Our industry has gone through three major transformations from then to now—and the only reason we’ve been able to continue our growth is because we have the experience to identify and embrace tomorrow’s trends before everyone else.”

Here’s another example. Don’t simply state that you have 18 offices around the world. Instead, infuse that fact with meaning, and say:

“We’re a global events planning company. We can help you plan top-notch events in New York and Los Angeles, but also in Mexico City, Berlin, Mumbai, Johannesburg, and 12 other major international cities. And if you want to plan an event in a city outside of those 18 locations, our closest regional office can successfully plan it for you from there, as we did in 145 cities last year alone.”

As you practice for your next presentation, pay close attention to the moments when you’re verging on becoming a context-free, facts-only presenter. Then, repeat this mantra: “I am not a Wikipedia page!” and add meaning to those facts.

Want more free public speaking tips? Check out our 25 Most Essential Public Speaking Tips.

 


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What These 1990s Songs Teach You About Public Speaking

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on June 18, 2014 – 6:02 am

In the 1990s, we were rico suave and too legit to quit. We lived la vida loca and smelled like teen spirit. We wore gold-colored hammer pants and flannel. We went to Lollapalooza and the Lilith Fair. We listened to grunge, Britpop, and hip hop.

Nostalgia for the 90s has never been greater. In this post, you’ll find public speaking lessons based on 13 huge hits from the 1990s—from superstars like Paula Abdul and Guns N’ Roses to one-hit wonders like Chumbawamba. 

I hope you enjoy this post! If you do, please help this blog grow by sharing this post through your social networks and signing up for our free weekly newsletter. You can opt out at any time. And now, on with the 90s! 

Backstreet Boys I Want It That Way

 

Sir Mix-a-Lot, “Baby Got Back” (1992)

Great speakers often provide the person introducing them with a pre-written and attention-grabbing introduction. When they hit the stage after being introduced, they seize the audience’s attention from the first word by using a compelling opening. Sir Mix-a-Lot did exactly that by having two white women introduce his song by criticizing the size of a black woman’s butt—and then rebutting them with an attention-grabbing opening that has survived more than two decades: “I like big butts and I cannot lie.” One other note: the attention-grabber was tied directly to his message, which was about the unrealistic expectations magazines like Cosmo put on a woman’s shape.

Note: After posting this story, Sir Mix-A-Lot responded on Twitter:

Sir Mix a Lot Tweet

 

Backstreet Boys, “I Want It That Way” (1999)

According to a fascinating piece of research, boy bands use the word “you” more than any other word. Perhaps the boys of ‘N Sync, 98 Degrees, and Hanson were onto something. By using the pronoun “you,” they directed their message straight into the hearts of their mostly younger, female fans. The word “you” has that power, and great speakers use it often to deliver their personal-sounding messages to each individual audience member. As an example, this Backstreet Boys classic uses the word “you” or “your” no fewer than 20 times—and “you” is the first word in the song.

 

 

Alanis Morissette, “Ironic” (1996)

Okay, so none of the incidents described in Morissette’s “Ironic” are actually ironic. But her rapid-fire series of mini vignettes (a man terrified of flying who conquered his fear, boarded a plane, and crashed; the old man who won the lottery and died the next day; meeting the man of your dreams only to find that he’s married) offers a terrific template for speakers. The “short vignettes” opening can be an effective starter. As an example, a physician might open by describing the ailments suffered by three patients, with each mini anecdote receiving no more than 10-15 seconds of detail.

 

 

Whitney Houston, “I Will Always Love You” (1993)

Whitney Houston’s record label hated the idea of a 45-second a cappella introduction to this song, but her instincts to keep it were right. According to Rolling Stone,after 14 weeks at the top of the Billboard charts, it set the record for the longest run at Number One on the charts.” Her unique intro stood out from almost all of the other pop music on the charts at the time—her moments of breathy silence in between lyrics broke the pattern—and that’s a lesson all speakers should remember. Speakers can break the pattern by pausing, blacking out presentation slides after using them for a few minutes, or distributing a handout to the audience (among many other ways).

 

 

Guns N’ Roses, “November Rain” (1992)

As a general rule, it’s better to speak for too short than too long. But if a great movie can hold your attention for two-and-a-half hours, shouldn’t a great speaker be able to hold your attention for longer than the typical 50-minute conference breakout session? Guns N’ Roses pushed back against the typical constraints of pop radio, which restricts most songs to about four minutes. In 1992, their nine-minute hit “November Rain” made it to number three on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, becoming the “longest song in history to enter the top ten of that chart,” according to Wikipedia—and proving that longer can be better if the song—or speech—is good enough.

 

 

TLC, “Waterfalls” (1995)

TLC’s terrific mid-90s hit song (and award-winning video) delivered a straightforward, unambiguous, and easy to act-upon call to action: “Don’t go chasing waterfalls / please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to.” Similarly, speakers (depending on the purpose of the speech) should offer a simple and direct call to action. How important is a call to action? In one study, the “jerks” who received a direct call to action acted more charitably than the “saints” who didn’t. 

 

 

 

Spice Girls, “Wannabe” (1997)

Like TLC, the Spice Girls offer a formula for a successful call to action: “I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want.” If your audience doesn’t understand the next steps they’re supposed to take after hearing you speak, they won’t take any. Some research suggests that asking for a small and easily accomplished call to action is a good way to begin, since a small action often leads to bigger future actions. 

 

 

Elton John, “Candle in the Wind 1997” (1997)

When Princess Diana died in a car accident in 1997, Elton John repurposed his 1970s hit “Candle In The Wind.” Whereas the original was about Marilyn Monroe, Elton John changed the lyrics to become about “England’s Rose.” This is relevant for speakers who tend to deliver similar information to different audiences. With minor but important tweaks and modifications, “generic” presentations can become immediately relevant to the specific audience to which the speakers are presenting. The heart of your presentation may be the same—but the audience will feel that you’ve created it just for them. 

 

 

Los del Rio, “Macarena” (1995)

Let’s face it: this was a terrible song with a video to match. But the men of Los del Rio were onto something when they followed in the footsteps of other artists who wrote songs that became popular dances (e.g. “The Twist,” “The Hand Jive,” “Da Butt,” “Vogue,” “Conga,” “The Electric Slide”). These songs became staples at weddings and proms because they involved the audience in a meaningful way. The analogy to public speaking is obvious.

 

 

Extreme, “More Than Words” (1991)

In their gorgeous ballad, Extreme pointed out that there is a difference between verbal communication and body language: “More than words / is all you have to do to make it real / then you wouldn’t have to say that you love me / ‘cause I’d already know.” As Extreme pointed out, words are only one way to deliver a message—and they’re often not enough on their own. To be truly effective, words need to be fully connected to the body language associated with them. In some cases, that means that your tone is as important—or even more important—than the words you choose. And great speakers have the ability to use their faces and bodies to communicate certain key points without any words at all.

 

 

R. Kelly, “I Believe I Can Fly” (1997)

Given his history, R. Kelly may seem like an odd choice to deliver such an inspirational ballad. But his song about positive self-talk is a great internal monologue for all speakers to remember before hitting the stage: “If I can see it, then I can do it / If I just believe it, there’s nothing to it / I believe I can fly.” Many speakers say they benefit from that type of “positive visualization” by visualizing the audience’s enthusiastic response to them before they walk onto the stage and begin their speech.

 

 

Chumbawamba, “Tubthumping” (1998)

Despite your positive visualization, there’s still a chance you might bomb your presentation. That’s where this song comes in: “I get knocked down / But I get up again / You’re never gonna keep me down.” With its pick-yourself-up-and-try-again lyrics, it’s a good reminder that most of us are going to deliver a dud once in a while. But your next audience won’t know that you didn’t succeed with your last audience, so it’s important not to bring that imperfect history into your new talk. Every presentation offers an opportunity to succeed anew—if you don’t self-sabotage it with your negative self-talk.

 

 

Paula Abdul, “Opposites Attract” (1990)

The video for Paula Abdul’s hit “Opposites Attract” featured MC Skat Kat, an animated cat that performed choreographed dance moves with her. The video was so popular that it won a Grammy Award. It’s a good reminder to speakers that in order to stand out, visuals need to be more engaging than bullets and words on a screen. Get creative—use compelling images, relevant multimedia elements, well-designed handouts, or anything else you can think of that will bring your main points to life in a more memorable manner than audiences are used to.

 

 

If you enjoyed this post, check out our tips from 1980s pop music here! And don’t forget to sign up for our weekly newsletter here.

 


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For How Many Seconds Should You Make Eye Contact?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on June 9, 2014 – 12:02 am

If you read a few public speaking books, you’ll probably come across conflicting advice about how long you should maintain eye contact with an audience member before moving on to someone else.

Here are a few examples from writers whose insight I respect:

In You Are The Message, Roger Ailes writes: “As you move from small group to small group—or from individual to individual—in the audience, linger for a few seconds.”

On his website “Six Minutes,” public speaking blogger Andrew Dlugan recommends that speakers “Sustain eye contact with someone for a few seconds, then move on.”

In 100 Things Every Presenter Needs To Know About People, Susan Weinschenk gets slightly more specific: “Spend 2 to 3 seconds looking at one person, then move to another person.”

In Presentation Skills 201, William R. Steele agrees: “Look at someone just long enough that you both feel the connection (two or three seconds) and then move on.

Businesspeople Spying on Each Other

Presentations That Persuade and Motivate, published by the Harvard Business Press, recommends doubling that time: “Make eye contact for five or six seconds with people in the front, left and right, and the back.”

In Speak With Confidence, Dianna Booher dispenses with that approach, advising speakers to focus not on seconds, but on sentences: “Delivering one or two sentences to each person establishes a bond of intimacy with individual listeners.” 

Jerry Weissman’s The Power Presenter has similar advice, but recommends less time-per-person: “Deliver one phrase to that person. Pause. Move to another person and deliver one phrase to that person.”

Who’s Right?

All of the writers above offered similar advice, but with meaningful variations. A few of them noted that although a specific number of seconds (or words) could serve as a helpful general guideline, the  specific amount of time was less important than what happens during the eye contact—a genuine connection between speaker and audience member. I agree with that.

In my experience, giving speakers a specific timeline to follow gets them too far inside their heads. Instead of focusing on being truly in the moment during their presentations, they suddenly find themselves doing mental math: “One second—two-seconds—three seconds—okay, I need to look at a new person now.

The most useful guideline I can offer is this: You shouldn’t say a word unless you’re looking someone in the eye and making a connection with that person. (If there’s any “rule” beyond that, it should be that you don’t dart your eyes so quickly from person to person that you fail to make a connection.) That’s all you have to remember. Don’t talk to the wall, the floor, the ceiling, your notes, your laptop, or the screen projecting your PowerPoint slides. By remembering to speak into someone’s eyes, every word, phrase, sentence, and paragraph you utter will help you forge a meaningful connection.

If, after all of that, you’re still seeking a numerical formula, remember this excellent piece of advice from Andrew Dlugan: “There’s no magic minimum or maximum; you’ll just know.”

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Public Speaking Tip: Start With The Chorus, Not The Verse

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on May 1, 2014 – 4:02 am

The Beatles reached the top of the pop charts in 1964 with their hit song “She Loves You.”

Most pop songs of that era—and every subsequent era—started with the verse and built to the chorus. That formula was such a typical pop song construction that the band Genesis released an album and song in 1981 called ABACAB. As guitarist Mike Rutherford explained, the band used the letters to represent different parts of the band’s songs.

“A” represented the verse. “B” represented the chorus. “C” represented the bridge.

Listen to pop songs on the radio today, and you’ll hear that most of them still conform to a similar formula. As an example, Miley Cyrus’s recent hit “Wrecking Ball” uses a “A-B-A-B-C-A-B” formula.

But “She Loves You” was different. It flipped the typical formula and started with the chorus, or “B,” the giant hook that grabbed the audience immediately.

That leads to a question: Are there times when you should begin your presentations with the chorus instead of the verse?

As The Beatles would say, yeah, yeah, yeah. You shouldn’t do it for every speech, but flipping the formula occasionally to begin with your chorus is a great tool to add to your toolbox.

Beatles She Loves You

Doing so is more common than you might think. Consider the prosecutor who opens a trial with this statement:

“By the end of this trial, I intend to prove that the defendant is guilty of murder.”

That opening salvo is the chorus. The evidence the prosecutor introduces during the trial is the verse. Here’s another example of beginning with the chorus from a more typical workplace setting:

“Good morning. We’ve made our choice. Our recommendation is Mega Corporation. You asked us to choose which of three companies should become our main supplier, and after careful review, it wasn’t even close. Mega Corporation is our runaway winner. For the next half hour, we’ll explain why.” 

That may not seem like much, but that same presentation is usually delivered with a careful comparison of the three companies, with the final recommendation coming at the end. Verse first, then the chorus.

Flipping the script is one powerful way to grab your audience’s attention from the start. Consider the typical structure of the presentation you’re about to give—and then decide whether you want to keep the “A” first or flip the script and begin with your “B”  instead.

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Another Sentence To Banish From Your Presentations

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 22, 2014 – 6:02 am

I often work with presenters who lack energy during their first practice speech. When we watch their videos back together, most people see for themselves that they fell a bit flat. Then we discuss how to fix the problem.

We discuss what parts of their presentation they feel truly excited about—then we look for ways for that passion to shine through in a manner that feels genuine to the speaker. Looking for the thing behind the thing (read more about that here) often unleashes their passion.

But then a curious thing happens during the next practice round.

Successful speech

When the trainees get up to deliver their second practice speech, I often hear them insert a new sentence they didn’t utter during the first round:

“I’m really excited to be here.”

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that sentence (or its equivalents), but I’ve concluded that speakers shouldn’t use it. Why? Because I’d prefer they show their enthusiasm through their delivery, not tell people they’re excited through their words.

Trying to seem more excited simply by saying those words usually doesn’t work. It’s an ineffective fixative, since the line too often comes across without the enthusiasm the line demands. As a result, it typically comes across as forced.

Plus, telling people “I’m excited!” feels like the equivalent of an actor breaking character to tell the audience, “This next scene is going to be awesome!” The actor would never do that, of course—a great scene doesn’t require such an announcement. Neither does a great presentation.

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