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How To Be A Better Public Speaker
(Day 18, Speaking Palooza 2019)

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July is Freedom from Fear of Speaking Month and to celebrate, I’ve invited a team of speaking experts to share their best tips and tricks for improving your speaking skills and overcoming speaking anxiety.

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How To Be A Better Public Speaker

By Guest Expert Kelly Swanson

This video post is for those who have to speak in their profession, not as a profession.

“I’ve have opportunities in my business to get up and speak – but I’m scared to death.”

“I wish I had more confidence speaking in front of people.
How do I stop being so nervous?”

“I don’t know what to do with my hands.
I feel like everything I say comes out sounding stupid.”

“I get the feeling people aren’t really paying attention to what I’m saying. How do I get people to listen?”

How to be a better public speaker

The Fear of Public Speaking

These are all things I have said to myself at one time or another, and I make my living as a professional speaker and teach others how to do it. These feelings are normal and natural and every person who gets up to speak has probably felt them at one time or another. Why? Because speaking in public ranks as one of our worst fears. Seriously, it’s like in the top five. I think even higher than death. So if your palms are sweating, and the idea of speaking in public has you terrified, you are most certainly not alone. In fact, you are in the majority. Today I’m not going to teach you how to be a better presenter. We don’t have enough time. But I can help you reframe it – change the way you see it – so that it won’t be as difficult.

Often the key to being a better public speaker isn’t found in mastering the right arm movement, or facial expression. The key to presenting with ease is actually found in how we approach the entire process – our mental mindset. If you want to change your impact – change how you see it.

Getting Your Head In The Right Place

These are some time-tested truths about public speaking. Living by them will help you have more impact and maybe not dread that next presentation.

Understand the Fear

Let your dreams be bigger than your fearsI don’t believe that speaking in front of people is what we are really afraid of. We’re afraid of looking stupid. I think it goes all the way back to childhood and the way we craved acceptance and belonging from others. I think it relates to how we see ourselves in our world. Once I realized that it was looking silly that I was really afraid of, it made it easier for me to tackle that fear. I also found it ironic that when I was walking in the hallway earlier that morning – chatting in the food line with a stranger – checking into the hotel – or any of the other countless tasks I do on a daily basis – I was never afraid of looking silly. Nobody laughed and pointed at me when I ordered my food. And even if I did do something silly on purpose, or even by accident, I wasn’t really worried about how it made me look. So why should it be any different on stage? I began to realize that this fear really had no truth behind it. And if I was afraid of looking silly, that ship had sailed way before I ever stepped on that stage.

Tip: Go ahead and tell the audience that you feel silly – worried you’ll say the wrong thing – wishing you were anywhere else but up here. They will relate and they will love you for it.

When you admit to an audience that you aren’t comfortable speaking in public, you are creating an emotional connection because you are sharing a part of your story and they can relate to that emotion. Creating an emotional connection makes you a more powerful presenter – and holds way more value than a good speech. You’re also doing something pretty clever – you are judging yourself before they can and showing them that you are okay with being nervous. This gives you more power on the platform.

Quit Seeing The Audience As Hateful People

Don’t picture them in their underwear. Good grief. Who came up with that one? Talk about distracting! But I do want you to think about how you picture your audience – the story you write. If you write a story that says they are all snarling animals waiting to tear you apart, it will affect your presentation. These people aren’t haters, they are your friends. The truth is, they’re just happy they aren’t up there. They don’t really care that you’re speaking. They’re more interested in what’s for lunch. And most people are polite and friendly – not waiting to rip you apart. Find a way to see the people in your audience as real human beings and it will make presenting easier. Again – these are the same people who were chatting with you in the hallway – standing in line at lunch – sitting beside you in the lobby. They don’t turn into hecklers once you stand up on a stage.

Tip: Walk around and meet people before you present. Find out personal things about them. Where are they from? What sports team are they rooting for? Do they have pets or children? Compliment a fun outfit. When you present, talk to these people. There is a big difference in your mind when that scary guy in the suit in the front row is really a grandpa who happened to grow up in the same town you did.

It’s Not About How Good You Look

It's not about how good you lookIt’s really really not about how skinny you are, or whether they like your outfit. Sure, our appearance does make an impression. If we show up for our presentation in sweatpants and a ripped t-shirt, people will judge. But we spend far too much time worrying about what people will think of our appearance when we stand up on a stage. Truth? It didn’t really matter when they met you in the hallway. It doesn’t really matter now that you’re standing up there. The one compliment I have received most over the past fifteen years as a professional speaker is, “You are so real.” If I’m so real, what is everybody else? Fake. So there you go. Real beats fake. Run with it, my friend. Stop overthinking the outside package. Most people don’t feel perfect themselves, so they don’t connect to canned perfection on the platform.

For years I worried about what I looked like on stage. This vanity gave me less power on the platform because I was making it about ME. Once I focused on the audience – making this about THEM – I began to forget how good I looked. When we serve the homeless, we don’t worry whether we wore the right outfit. Our focus was outward. So when we’re presenting, let’s just serve.

Tip: Whenever I find myself starting to overthink my outfit, or cringing when I see video of myself that looks horrible – I just remember back to the last great presentation I gave. The comments I received. The emails people sent. The evaluations from the client. This is TRUTH. My ability to persuade and influence and motivate and inspire – has NEVER had anything to do with looking skinny or perfect or having white teeth. In fact, I would almost venture to say that the more unpolished I get, the more successful I get. I’m just saying. The numbers don’t lie.

Don’t Convince, Just Share Your Story

One reason speaking in public freaks people out is the fear of getting the information out – in the right order – saying the right words – making sense – and not sounding like an idiot. I could state the obvious – that preparation and practice makes you a better presenter. Duh. But let me state what isn’t as obvious.

It doesn’t really matter if you trip over some words. It doesn’t really matter if you use notes. It doesn’t really matter where you put your arms – or that you memorized every word. Leave that to professional speakers. When it comes to public speaking, authenticity is what really matters. Speaking from the heart holds more weight than remembering every line. And telling a story ALWAYS beats giving people too much information. If you can tell a story about why this matters so much to you and to them – you have done what most professional speakers haven’t ever been able to do – and you will have a lasting impact.

Tip: Don’t focus on what in your presentation, focus on WHY. There’s always more time for that later. Get them to buy into the why first. If you find a simple story that illustrates the point(s) you want to make, that story will do more to convince/persuade/motivate/inspire/teach/create trust and credibility than any amount of bullet point data. The science backs me up on this. Story is the only tool that will allow you to wrap data in a way that creates an emotional connection with your listener. And persuasion is all about emotion.

Remember the Intent

Public speaking is about educating a group of people – creating an awareness. It’s not about performing and getting an A. It’s about persuasion. It’s about motivating people to take action. It’s about convincing people they have a problem and that you know how to solve it. Too many people focus on the mechanics of speaking, never addressing the reason we’re up there in the first place.

Tip: As you plan, practice, and present your talk, always be mindful that you are trying to persuade people. You want to influence, not perform. Performing sounds hard. Sharing your message in a real authentic way? Not so hard.

I think the key to public speaking is just showing people you care and using story to show them why they should care too.

Truth Trumps Emotion

Just because you feel like you don’t belong up there, doesn’t mean it’s true. Don’t let emotion drive the car. The truth is that you have been chosen for this moment for a reason. Honor that. Someone chose you. This means they see something in you that you don’t see in yourself. Take a deep breath and jump. This is not about you – it’s about them. It matters.

Don’t wait to feel brave, choose brave

I choose to make my dream bigger than my fear. The one person who might not like my message, or the outfit I wore when I delivered it, is far less important to me than the person who needed to hear those words today. I refuse to doubt the Spirit that dwells inside of me or the Creator who has allowed me a voice and a mountain. To honor that Creator, I need to honor His Creation. I’m just saying.

Need Help with Your Presentation Skills? Book Kelly today! 1-800-303-1049

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About Kelly Swanson

Kelly SwansonKelly Swanson is an award-winning storyteller, motivational speaker, comedian, and author of The Story Formula: Connect and Engage through the Power of Strategic Storytelling.


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About the author

This post is part of Speaking Palooza. Created by Carma Spence, author of the award-winning, bestselling book Public Speaking Super Powers, it is a month-long event bringing together a wide variety of speaking experts from throughout the English-speaking world to help you overcome the fear of speaking and become a better speaker.

Please see the "About" section above for more information about today's featured expert.