“According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” --Jerry Seinfeld
We all know what it’s like to be anxious before we have to give a presentation: elevated heart rate, shortness of breath, racing thoughts, and other symptoms of anxiety.
And yet, we’ve all seen people who rise to the occasion and don’t seem nervous at all. Their thoughts and words seems to flow effortlessly. They exude confidence.
How do they become so confident as public speakers? Are they born that way? The simple answer is, no.
Everyone Gets Nervous
After 20 years of coaching leaders, I can tell you that the people who seem the least nervous, have worked the hardest to prepare themselves. I’ve worked with CEOs, professional athletes, and members of Congress and EVERYONE gets nervous.
As Richard Branson, Virgin CEO, said recently: “Despite speaking in public fairly regularly, it still does not come naturally to me. Even after 40 years standing in front of a crowd with a microphone, I still find that the nerves can creep in.”
Successful presenters have learned how to control and channel their anxiety. Most of them have developed many of these habits:
1. Confident speakers know what they want to say.
Not surprisingly, the lack of a clear message undermines your confidence and results in long presentations without a point. Confident speakers give deep thought to their main messages. Those messages come from knowing who you are and what you believe is the right course.
2. Confident speakers are authentic.
These presenters don’t say what they think people want to hear. They say what they believe. They are open and risk vulnerability to share themselves with their listeners. They tell personal stories. As leaders, they don’t just read what is handed to them. They make sure their “talking points” reflect their views and their voice.
3. Confident speakers believe they bring value to their audience.
Many people feel anxious because they think they are being judged by their audiences, and that they will be rejected. Confident presenters think about what their audience needs and brings something helpful to people. They reduce their internal anxiety by keeping the focus on others.
4. Confident speakers prepare relentlessly.
Many leaders move their communications to the bottom on their priorities, taking a few minutes the morning of their presentation to review a poor Powerpoint, which they might read word for word. Confident speakers understand the importance of effective communications in inspiring action in others and take the assignment seriously.
I have a client in New York, the president of a Fortune 100 company division, who is renowned for being a “natural” in his charismatic and seemingly spontaneous delivery. But he shares with anyone who asks that it takes hard work to seem spontaneous: he carefully crafts, practices and delivers his messages.
5. Confident speakers rehearse their presentations--out loud.
Too many people read their presentations to themselves and think they've rehearsed. I tell my clients, if it's not out loud, it doesn't count!
With presentations that seemed so spontaneous, many people thought of Steve Jobs, the late CEO of Apple, as just a guy in jeans and a black shirt who showed up and talked about the latest product. But the fact is that Jobs carefully orchestrated every detail of his presentation and ran through countless rehearsals until he felt his program was perfect. Job’s sales pitches for new products clearly helped propel sales and company growth.
Even the late President Ronald Reagan, who had delivered the same essential messages over 30 years, would carefully rehearse before even the most brief address.
6. Confident speakers control their breathing.
The strangest thing happens when we are anxious, when we most need our breath: we stop breathing. You gain confidence by learning to control your breath--through deep breathing exercises and awareness of your breath. This is your life force and will help you maintain your confidence and composure.
7. Confident speakers stay present in the moment.
Each presentation we make happens in its own space and time. As a professional speaker and trainer, I know that every audience is different. Even the same group on a second day is different. As they say, you can’t step into the same river twice--it’s always changing.
That’s why confident speakers are fully present. They listen carefully to questions rather than blurting out a preconceived answer. They are attuned to the mood of the room and what people need at that moment. Again, they focus on the audience, not themselves.
What About You?
I strongly believe that anyone can become a much more confident speaker by modeling these habits. As with any skills, you need focus and intentional practice.
Please use the share buttons for your friends and give me your feedback in the comments. How do you build and maintain your confidence?
photo credit: Brisbane City Council via Creative Commons