Noun. The fear of public speaking.
People’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that seem right? That means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.
– Jerry Seinfeld, 1993
In a world where there is so much uncertainty, we are crying out for people we can trust. One of the simplest ways for us to do that as bloggers, entrepreneurs and influencers is to make sure that we are successfully communicating with our audiences and being the standout face of our brand. Doing this means that we are able to speak in a way that connects with those we are targeting with honesty and authenticity, letting them see who is behind the blog/product/business, finding out why it’s been created in the first place and how it goes about serving the community. All this helps to draw audience in and most importantly, creates a brand they can trust.
With the rise of events, expos, talks, Facebook live, IG stories and now IGTV – how on earth are we ever going to begin combating those nerves and pressing that ‘Start Live Video’ or stepping out onto that stage?
Here are my 5 quick top tips to help you up your speaking game and begin to get your message out there:
One of the best ways to help us relax is to breathe. We’ve all heard of the ‘fight or flight’ response and one of the ways that our bodies will try to get us out of a situation we feel is threatening is to stimulate the sympathetic nervous system (which raises heart rate and releases adrenaline) in order to either fight the threat or get us out of there… quick! However, our physiological systems can’t distinguish between a perceived threat or an actual threat.
Breathing is one way we can start to calm the nervous system and activate the parasympathetic nervous system before speaking, which helps to calm us down.
As opposed to breathing into our chest as most of us have learned to do, try breathing into your diaphragm by placing one hand on your stomach. As you breathe in, focus the breath into your hand and push it away from your body. As you breathe out, your hand comes back towards you.
A quick exercise I like to use is –
Breathe in for one, out for five
Breathe in for two, out for five
Breathe in for three, out for five,
Breathe in for four, out for five
Notice how your body relaxes, how the muscles release and how the heart rate begins to slow.
Open body language
When that fight or flight response kicks in, our body language can also change to protect us from a perceived threat. We may find ourselves crossing our arms and/or legs, putting our hands in our pockets, rocking from side to side or even fidgeting. Crossing our arms in front of our chest is a survival technical to protect our vital organs and nerves tend to come through rocking and fidgeting.
But what on earth am I meant to do?! I hear you cry.
You may have heard of Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk on Power Poses – if you haven’t you can check it out here. Amy found that by unfurling our arms and legs and posing in certain shapes for two minutes (for example the wonder woman – feet hip width apart and stood with hands on hips), feelings of power and confidence rose – as did our body chemistry. Testosterone levels increased and cortisol (the stress hormone) levels decreased. You might want to try this in the toilet before speaking though as opposed to on stage!
When speaking itself, unwrapping our arms, having feet hip width apart and our hands directly in front of us allows us to come across as physically confident and gives you the opportunity to use hand gestures in order to emphasise what we have to say even further.
Remember, if we’re in front of a large audience our movements have got to be big enough to communicate what we’re saying right to the back of the room – so make sure you judge it appropriately!
Even if we’re absolutely bricking it on the inside, smiling helps to release endorphins which in turn help to relax us and make us feel more confident. It also helps to show our audience that we’re happy to be on camera or on stage talking to them (always a good thing!) and makes them feel like we know what we’re saying and we feeling confident… even if we’re not!
Engage with an audience
Using language that our audience can relate to is essential when speaking. If you’re talking about nutrition and the effect that certain chemicals have on the body in scientific terms to nutritionists, then great – go ahead and use that language.
However, when we’re speaking to those who might have an interest in it but may not necessarily understand the technical terms, we need to break it down into layman’s terms and translate it in a way that is understandable and relatable to them.
Another really simple example is this – my boyfriend is ex-military and to stop me getting confused about all the different ranks (which I find it really tricky to get my head around) he explains it in terms of teachers; whether they’re a subject teacher, head of the year, deputy head or headteacher… much easier to understand!
Passion and enthusiasm
Quite simply, the most important thing we can do when speaking is to do it with passion and enthusiasm.
If we don’t believe in what we’re saying – no one will!
Passion catches – it’s authentic, it’s honest and technique aside, it’s what is most likely to connect with our audience. Our voice and our bodies tend to respond accordingly. Our physical and vocal expression heightens and matches what we’re saying without necessarily thinking about it.
If we’re watching a singer or musician perform and they’re lost in their music, the way they move and express themselves just comes without them thinking about it (Florence and the Machine does it amazingly well in my opinion). As an audience member, it can be captivating and we can get caught up in their passion and love for what they’re doing – and the same is true for when we speak!
So, to recap – breathe, open your body language, smile, engage your audience and speak with passion and enthusiasm. A little of each of these goes a long way. Good luck!