If you wish to succeed in business, or indeed in many leisure activities, you must be able to speak with confidence. After all, if you cannot put your own ideas across then how can you possibly influence others?
You may be very competent at what you do now, but you will never progress up the ladder if you cannot talk with ease to other people in a public and formal setting.
You may need to give an address to your own team or that of a colleague. You may need to present a proposal to potential clients. You may need to talk about your departmentís work and results, or about its plans. The examples are endless.
At some time or another almost everyone has to present something to an assembled group of people, and yet it has been found that public speaking is many peopleís greatest fear. Why should this be?
Why is it that men and women who talk fluently and freely in amongst an informal group of their friends become nervous and tongue-tied when faced with an audience? Fear of speaking in public is something that everyone is familiar with to some degree or another and even experienced speakers feel nervous at times. But what is it that turns someone who is a confident fluent speaker when amongst his friends into a shaking wreck when in front of a crowd? If you understand why you experience fear then it is only a short step to overcoming it.
In fact what is the difference between the two situations? What is the difference between speaking to friends and speaking in public that causes the fear and anxiety? In reality there are two fundamental differences that cause the change in the speakerís behaviour; the audience and the subject. Understand this and you can master your fears.
First letís consider the audience. When amongst your friends you donít even consciously think about whom you are speaking to. You know who they are. You know their characters. You know their attitudes and prejudices. Because you know them you are confident with the way they will react to what you say.
However, if a stranger joins your group you will start to speak with more care. You may temper your words. You may add more explanation so as not to be misunderstood. You may adjust what you say to avoid possible misinterpretation or offence. In other words you become less fluent and less free in what you say, and more concerned with how you say it. So it is in a room full of strangers. Your delivery is stilted because you donít know them or how they will react.
The remedy therefore is clear. It is to get to know and understand your audience. The better you know them the easier it will be to address them. Find out as much as you can. Find out about them in advance. Discover what they know already about your subject. Find out what they do. Make this an integral part of your pre talk preparation. If possible, greet your audience on their way in. It will make them feel more like friends to you, and you will feel more like a friend to them. This inevitably will help you to relax.
Remember that your audience is not against you and that it wants you to succeed in giving a clear informative talk. Your audience is there in order to gain the information and knowledge that you can give them, and as long as you do this they will be happy.
This brings us to the second fundamental difference between a talk amongst friends and a talk to a public audience; the subject matter.
Amongst friends you will talk about your family, your hobbies, your interests. These are things that you know inside out. You can talk with conviction. If you do talk about subjects you know little or nothing about you donít mind looking foolish in front of people you have known closely for years. You have confidence that they know you well enough to realise that you are not really stupid, and that they like you and respect you for all aspects of your personality.
This is not so in front of an audience who have come to hear you speak. They expect you to know what you are talking about. They expect you at the very least to know more about the subject than they do. If you have any doubts about your own competence then you are in trouble, and you will know it. Your confidence will plummet and your stress levels will rise. You must be on top of your subject if you are to conquer your fears.
The more you have mastered your subject the easier it is to speak without fear of saying something incorrect or inaccurate. The more you know your subject the easier it is to provide the telling examples that make everything clear and the detail that makes all the difference. Glossing over an area you are not sure of will not be necessary. You wonít speak with the fear of having your statements challenged afterwards.
The more completely you know your subject the less you will need to refer to your notes. You will find that the more you know about your subject the more fluently and naturally you will speak. This is perhaps obvious, but it is also something that can really show. If you donít know your subject your audience will soon find out, and you will sense their mistrust. They will feel cheated and you will have real cause to be nervous. Knowing your subject is essential to speaking without fear.
And so it all comes back to preparation. If you donít know your subject then you really shouldnít be talking about it, and if you donít know something about your audience how can you possibly pitch your talk at the right level? But if you take care of these two essential issues Ė your subject and your audience - then your confidence will soar. They are more important and fundamental than any tricks or flashy aids to presentation.