An email arrives inviting you to speak in front of a group of business leaders, and you panic. You have lots to say and important information to share, but you aren’t comfortable speaking in front of large groups. Sound familiar? You’re not alone. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 74 percent of adults suffer from speech anxiety.
So what can you do to alleviate this fear? We spoke with Ken Lindner, CEO of Los Angeles-based Ken Lindner & Associates, Inc., a broadcast talent agency and author of Your Killer Emotions (Greenleaf Group Book Press 2013), to learn how to overcome this fear and claim your place in the spotlight.
1. Have a game plan.
“Fear can paralyze you. Having a strategy helps dissipate fear,” says Lindner. If you’re afraid of consequences like being embarrassed or failing, it brings negative energy. Instead of visualizing negative outcomes or focusing on times you’ve been embarrassed in the past, picture yourself making a great speech that enlightens and inspires your audience, and all the positives that flow from making that speech, Lindner says.
Short-term benefits of giving a great speech may include educating and inspiring people, while long-term benefits may be more invitations to speak, being viewed as an expert in your field, and more business for your company.
2. Control your environment.
“You’re more comfortable with the home court advantage,” Lindner notes. Check out the location beforehand, getting a feel for the size of the space and the setup (whether there’s a podium, microphone stand, etc.) Lindner suggests having people in the audience that you know, with whom you’re comfortable, so there are friendly faces who can smile back or nod reassuringly.
3. Know your material.
“You’re the expert — it’s in your wheelhouse,” Lindner says. You know more about the topic than your audience, so educate them, Lindner says. People love to be engaged and inspired, he says. “If you talk about things you know and are passionate about, that resonates with people,” Lindner says.
Related: Richard Branson on the Art of Public Speaking
4. Be authentic.
One of Lindner’s clients is NBC’s Today show host Matt Lauer. Lindner says Lauer is likable because “he’s warm, he can laugh, he’s self-deprecating. He’s not scripted, he’s who he is.” On his show, Lauer has the opportunity to talk with people every day and show his personality. Speakers who do this well, like Oprah Winfrey and Katie Couric, connect with their audiences on a visceral level, notes Lindner. “The people who resonate the most are real and authentic.”
To do this, Lindner suggests thinking about the logical sequence of your message: the beginning, middle, and end, and the steps of how to get there. Don’t get bogged down with all the facts, Lindner says. Think about the message and what you want people to know. Having a general outline is fine, but be willing to go with the flow, Lindner says.
5. Know your audience.
Like a rock band that plays a different set list depending on where they are and who their audience is, a good speaker will know who’s in the audience and tailor their message to them. “Alter your speech so it resonates with them, and is meaningful and relevant to them,” Lindner says. Speaking at a live event offers you the opportunity to get immediate feedback and see whether people are responding to their message. Allowing for Q&A gives a speaker the chance to interact with the audience and be real, Lindner says.