Insights from practitioners in Information Management

Issue 22 – Public speaking

Do you suffer from glossophobia?

It is interesting to note that the people who suffer from glossophobia rank it in the same stress bracket as moving house, divorce and changing job.  But what I find most intriguing is that nearly everyone has suffered from this particular fear (or phobia) at one time or another.  Now before you run off to find a dictionary, glossophobia is the fear of public speaking.

I am not afraid to admit that I used to dread standing up in front of a group of people and speaking to them.  It did not matter what the subject matter was, I just hated the thought of having to do it. I also noticed that I seemed to have exactly the same problem when it came to “interviews” and the more I thought about it, the more that I came to the conclusion that being asked to go to an interview was exactly the same as being asked to give a presentation to a group of people I’d never met. And the reasons were simple – I was afraid that I would forget what I was going to say, that I wouldn’t be able to answer the tricky questions, that I would make myself look totally stupid. 

Like most phobias or fears, they can be overcome. And they can be overcome with four simple words – Preparation, Practice, Persistence and Patience.

We hope you enjoy reading.  Have a great week.


In this Issue we will be looking at:
• Preparation;
• Practice;
• Presentations: Delivering your message;
• The Ultimate Presentation: Selling yourself in a job interview;
• Persistence & Patience;
• A Thought to Ponder.

You’ve been asked to give a presentation – eek – now what.  If you are anything like most people, the thought of standing up in front of people you don’t know is enough to make you feel like a squadron of butterflies is rampaging through your stomach.  If you have never been asked to give a presentation before, then your fear will be one of genuine “fear of the unknown” how will I cope, what do I say? How long should I speak for? What happens if I fall flat on my face and make a complete fool of myself? What happens if they don’t like me?

Well believe it or not, most of those fears are completely unfounded.  OK it doesn’t stop you feeling sick at the thought – but if you stop for a minute and compose yourself, then you will know the answer to most of those questions – after all chances are you have been to more than one presentation in your life. 

I must admit, the worst presenter I ever saw was during a conference in Sydney.  There she made the mistake of telling everyone how nervous she was – and where she would prefer to be…. “on the beach in Noosa” everyone could tell she was nervous, even from the back – but by voicing her fears she allowed it to dominate her entire presentation.  The lady in question should not have been presenting that day, she had had to stand in for a colleague who happened to be sick.  So short notice, nerves and the biggest problem of all – she did not know the subject of the material that she was presenting – she had not written it, so she had to read someone else’s notes.  

Preparation is the key to a good presentation – whatever it happens to be for.

Content: Make sure that what you have to say is full of practical, easy to remember and full of useful information.  You do not need to make the message complicated, in fact if you can simplify your message into two or three main points then your message will be far more easily understood and more to the point – remembered.  By keeping your message simple, you can take the stress out of trying to remember EVERYTHING. 
You can reduce the time that you need to spend researching your topic, and you don’t confuse your audience with too much information. 

Confidence: Have confidence in yourself and your abilities. If you know your subject matter really well, then you are more than half way there.  Know that the message that you are passing on is going to be valuable and useful to the audience and you have almost got it nailed.  If you are worried that you will never be – witty, smart, calm, entertaining, polished etc etc, remember you don’t have to be.  The best speakers I have seen have a few things in common.  They are confident in themselves and their subject matter, but most important of all – they are themselves. 
Those people who are able to connect with their audience are the ones who are able to be themselves.  Of course if you are naturally bold, brash and arrogant then you might like to change your presenting style, but in the main you can be yourself and the audience will connect with you, because they will know that what you are telling them is straight from the heart.

Getting Specific:
Before your presentation:

Time: Know how long you have got to deliver your message.  If you have not given a presentation before then read it out loud and time yourself.
Purpose: You should be able to state in one sentence the purpose of your presentation.
Structure: The one tried and tested structure is “Present, Past, Future.” Give your audience the present – where you are now.  The past is to give the audience a brief history of how you came to be where you are today.  The future of course is to explain your proposed plan.
Visual Aids: Only use them if they will enhance your message.
Venue: How familiar are you? Check it out before your start.
Plan and Practice: Know where you will be on the “bill” and be prepared for run ons, and lots of people.  The problem with practicing is that most people do not have the benefit of an audience to “speak to”

Make sure that these are prepared well in advance and decide if they should be given out before or after.  Bear in mind that anything you give out before will be used as reading material by the audience during your presentation.

During the Presentation:
Introductions: Make sure that you formally introduce yourself and state why you are presenting.
Body Language: Your voice, hands, eyes, facial expressions and body movements all play a part in your presentation.  Are you a naturally animated speaker or are you a wooden puppet?
Conclusion: This should be strong enough to say “that’s it, I’m finished.” Rehearse your ending so that it sounds natural.
Questions: Don’t forget to ask for them.
Thanks: And don’t forget to thank the audience for listening.  As you leave, remember you will be watched so save your relief until you are out of sight and sound of your audience.

We all know that practice makes perfect, and yes you can go and book yourself into speaking courses if you can afford to.  But there are some cheaper alternatives. 

Mock Interviews:
Get together with a group of like-minded individuals such as a mentoring group, or grab a couple of friends and organise a mock interview.  Work out your questions in advance, then take it in turns to be the interviewer or interviewee.  Make sure that you are with a group who are open to the process and are willing to learn and share in the experience.
If your fear of public speaking cannot yet cope with this stage, then there is a way of breaking through this barrier.  It’s called “reading out loud”.
When was the last time you sat down and read out loud? If you have children, then you have a definitive advantage over those people who don’t. Why? Well, you have a ready and willing audience who are going to love your “presentation”.  It doesn’t matter that your presentation is actually a story about Goldilocks and the three bears, or Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone.  You are sharing a message with people who genuinely and honestly want to hear what you have to tell them.

And it is the same with most presentations that you have to give, your audience wants you to succeed, they want to hear your message and the way that you say it.  They want to know what difference you can make to them – your message might be as simple as “If I can do this, so can you.” Or it can be as complex as planetary orbits in xy galaxy, people are there because they want to listen, they want to experience and they want to know.  Your job is to make whatever subject you have chosen – interesting enough to capture and keep their attention.  And the way that you do it is simple.  It’s like giving characters in a story a voice.  Your voice.  

My children are old enough to read to themselves these days, but I know that as soon as I pick up a book and start to read out loud, they immediately stop whatever it is they are doing and come and listen.  

I have found that the more you give of yourself, the more they – the audience will get out of it, and as a direct consequence, how much more you will get out of the process too.
There is another aspect to reading aloud that you have not perhaps thought about.  How many real opportunities do you get to hear yourself “speak”?  Yes we all talk – either one on one, or with groups of people, it’s called having a conversation.  However, not many people are actually listening to what you have to say, simply because they are busily composing their next sentence.  But when you read out loud, no one else is speaking, the audience are (in this case children) hanging onto every single word that you are saying.

Of course if you don’t have kids, try reading out loud to your partner, get them to share in the experience with you, explain what you are trying to do and ask for their support.  You can also “borrow” some children, nephews and nieces, grandkids, the kids next door – not only will they benefit, but the parents get a breather too.  Alternatively you can do some voluntary work.  There are hundreds of sick children, who would love to listen to a story, but you don’t have to limit it to children, people of all ages love to listen to the spoken word. Get creative and get your voice out there.
There is a final and wonderful bonus to this process.  I am also passing on presentation skills to my children, because I am not the only one who reads.  They also take their turn on “centre stage” and as the days and weeks have gone on, they have added their own voices and their emotions to the story…and guests have also had to take their turn.  My children will not be afraid to speak out loud as I was.

Presentations: Delivering your Message
As with all things, how you choose to deliver your presentation is entirely up to you, however, you may like to take into consideration the occasion and the audience as well.

Reading from your script:
Reading your entire speech from a script may give you confidence and ensure that nothing is forgotten or omitted, however it is the least desirable option for delivering your speech. You will find it more difficult to see your audience, and make it harder for them to get involved to you. When reading from a script it is extremely difficult to deliver your speech to your audience.

Reading from notes:
If you are not confident enough to recite your speech from memory, then the use of notes is a much more desirable option than using a complete script. Your notes should consist of the keywords or points of your speech – a skeleton of thoughts or words around which you can build your speech. You may refer to your notes occasionally to maintain the thread of your speech, while for the most part you will be able to speak directly to the audience. If you are using overheads or PowerPoint then you can make notes relevant to each slide that you are presenting.

Reciting from memory:
You may prefer to recite from memory. However you should only do this if you are comfortable speaking publicly, and not prone to loss of concentration (or memory!). As with reading from a script, you should be careful not to lapse into a monotonous recitation of your speech.

The Ultimate Presentation – Selling Yourself in a Job Interview
Most people hate going to job interviews, they get tongue tied, they forget what they are going to say, and generally walk out of an interview feeling that they have stuffed up.
Preparing for an interview is no different to preparing for any other presentation that you have to give. 
Know your subject matter extremely well – research yourself (what are you good at, what are your hopes and aspirations etc etc), the company, the application package, your statement addressing the selection criteria.  Know what you said and how you said it. What else can you tell the prospective employer if asked “why should we employ you”
Ask yourself – how can I make a difference?
The people who “interview better” are simply those people who have mastered the art of presenting their material (i.e. themselves) to an audience (interview panel).  Accepting the feedback and questions, and then reacting accordingly (answering the questions).

Persistence & Patience
Persistence and Patience: Perhaps the two most vital words to remember. Do not expect to be brilliant the first time you have to give a speech, make a presentation or go for a job interview.  Remember to give yourself every opportunity to make those speeches, give presentations, read out loud to your children.  But don’t berate yourself if you feel that you didn’t nail it the first time that you tried.

Do you remember what it was like as a child? In particular do you remember learning how to walk? Of course you don’t.  Can you just imagine if we “grown ups” did remember learning the process of trying to walk – can you imagine what we would say?
“I was so embarrassed I kept falling down.”
“People kept smiling at me, when I knew all they wanted to do was laugh.”
“Oh the shame of it – my brother was walking two months before I did, and I’ve never lived it down. He’s always been better at everything than me.”
I’m sure you get the idea.  The difference between we adults and the children of the world is that they know that they have to fall over a few times before they get the hang of it, they know that they have to hang onto things to retain their balance, they know that they will not be able to run the first time that they try.  The difference between the children and the rest of us, is that they are not afraid to try, and they do not give up.
What happened to those skills and abilities that we instinctively had as children, and the question is – how can we regain them?

To your success.

A Thought to Ponder:
“I believe through learning and application of what you learn, you can solve any problem, overcome any obstacle and achieve any goal that you can set for yourself”
Brian Tracy