The stage is empty, no presence. There is a full crowd.
You finished your water even before stepping on stage.
The voice in your head comes up again: “Will this go well? Do I remember everything? Will I be okay?”
Most of us will stop and let this voice overwhelm us. The voice that you are listening to, is Fear, and Fear is always present in anything we do. Public speaking is no different: whether you are worried about messing up, being too quiet, or speaking in an incomprehensible way, anything can go wrong.
If you want to tackle these fears, it’s better to address them first. Here are some fears that may come up when you are about to speak:
Anxiety before the first word.
All eyes are on you.
Taking the first step to anything is very difficult. It’s quite intimidating every time, to come onto the stage for people to listen to your thoughts and findings.
Knowing this, the pressure all eyes are on you, the speaker, create this bubble of anxiety: made from expectations that you have created.
Will they understand me? What do they want to hear from? Will they like what I say?
This can crack the best of us; when you’re in the spotlight, it feels like you’re alone.
While some thrive being in the spotlight, as if they are the heroes of their own movie, others may find this process overwhelming. This ends up becoming a factor when public speaking: until you say the first word in your speech, the walk up to the stage can be difficult to do.
Many public speakers have different solutions to get past the first step:
- Hyping themselves up in front of a mirror
- Slapping themselves in the face to get into ‘Presenter’ mode (I am guilty of this)
- Going for a jog, or a quick work-out before the speech.
The first step is all in your head, and the next is the stage. Don’t lose your footing.
Do you know your stuff?
Knowledge Confidence describes how sure you are in your content. This can be seen in the way that you are delivering your speech, with absolute confidence and conveying your intentions to the audience.
Scientists and leaders exude a certain sense of absolution in their voices. For leaders, a commanding voice fits well with their directive. Scientists, on the other hand, are confident in their findings, hence their justifications are sound and unmoving.
Once you are sure in your knowledge, you will naturally project confidence as well.
Steve Jobs is extremely confident during his keynote, unveiling the iPhone. Using effective techniques, Jobs would take the audience through A Hero’s Journey, defining the enemy (eg. their competitors), and conveying the iPhone’s benefits to the public.
He is sure these benefits are unique and have an advantage. He is sure of their vision. He is powerful in his intention, hence exuding strong knowledge confidence.
The fear is in not knowing enough to address the audience’s needs.
You are the expert on stage, and you are the one who will share your well-received opinions on the topic at hand. The audience, as listening participants, would share their thoughts at the end of the talk. With this in mind, the weight of your words carry an even greater responsibility, and in order to maintain this, you must have strong knowledge confidence.
Do you have confidence in your knowledge? Is there anything you are unsure of? Do you have questions you are afraid of hearing from the audience?
Address these as quickly as possible, before your talk. If you want to make sure these questions do not take you down, address them in your speech. Research these questions, read about them and you will broaden your knowledge. The more you know, the more confident you can be.
The fear of knowledge confidence can come from two factors:
- An awareness of how much you know right now
- An awareness of how much you do not know, at this time
When these two factors clash against each other, it might tip your confidence over. It’s understandable, don’t worry. This can escalate to become a fear.
Don’t worry, you already know so much. That’s why you are on stage, right?
Fears in verbal communication.
Your voice is everything in a speech.
Verbal communication is the umbrella term to describe many forms of mistakes that can happen in a public speaking event. Specifically, anything to do with one’s voice. Some examples include:
- Unclear points
- The monotony of one’s voice
And so on.
You may have increased your volume at the wrong part of a sentence: people may misunderstand and focus on something completely different, which was not your intention.
You may have quietened down during a detailed explanation, and some people could not hear your justifications. Your intonations may have been inaccurate, and that could result in sounding sarcastic, angry, or violent. It could be part of the speech, but when it’s irrelevant, people will listen more to how you say it than what you are talking about.
The fear, in this case, is the inability to voice out your speech properly. This can only be overcome with practice.
Practice, practice, practice. That’s all you need, and that’s what you should do. Practice is the professor of public speaking.
The unspoken fear: non-verbal communication.
This, part is about your bodily actions.
It may be good to do a public speech on the podium, but when there is no podium, you have a duty to use the stage as you see fit. Non-verbal communication cues come into play here.
Stage presence becomes an important factor in how far your voice can travel. If your voice does not travel far when done from one small corner of the stage, then you may have trouble with non-verbal communication skills.
Where do your arms go when you speak? If your arms are stuck beside your body most of the time, you have no intention of directing your audience with your hands. Not allowing the speech to be conveyed through your hands weakens the overall point you want to make.
Many speakers talk about the box of normalcy: Imagine a box in front of you, the size of your upper body. Any action with your hands straying too far away from this box won’t look ‘normal’:
Are you exaggerating? Are you being formal and proper, staying within the box?
Another one is slide dependence: If you have a huge dependent on your screen, your body will subconsciously turn to face it at times. This implies very little confidence exuded by your presence and being dependent on visual aids as opposed to directly explaining with your voice. Why listen when you can look at the slides?
A lack of eye contact can be alarming as well. If the speaker shows poor eye contact skills with the audience, they may find it difficult to convey personal interaction: to ‘look’ like they are addressing every audience member in the room. It would be good then to scan across the room
Non-verbal communication brings up the fear that your physical actions may prevent the audience from listening to you properly. It is the speaker’s greatest fear to not be heard and understood at all on stage. If your audience cannot be drawn into your speech, then there is a problem.
But, there is no greater teacher than being on stage at all times. If you take the time to practice in a controlled environment, address your speaking tendencies and build powerful and positive habits, you will overcome these fears.
All fears on stage are natural. It can be overcome with hard work. You just need the right people to tackle it.