Occasionally, because of someones desperation or simple lack of imagination, you may be invited to speak to their group. If this happens, the first thing you will probably do is become terrified.
This is a common reaction. Surveys consistently show that people fear public speaking more than death, snakes, gangs, spiders, heights, widths, postal workers, medical exams, home dentistry, ghosts, aliens, the IRS and being trapped in an elevator with Mary Kay.
Speakers know this fear as "stage fright." If you have stage fright, your palms begin to sweat, your breath shortens, and you feel that your spleen has somehow loosened itself and is now shooting toward your throat. Your mouth feels as if youve taken a real big bite of steel wool. Your stomach rolls over, dumping a couple of gallons of nervousness down through your legs, and they begin to quake. In severe instances, you pass out, leaving your audience nothing to do except go through your pockets.
Yet, public speaking is the one skill you must have if you expect to be a leader in your organization. The higher you rise on the corporate ladder, the more you will be expected to be a speaker at business-plan presentations, retirement parties and appearances before investigating committees. If you ever reach the pinnacle of your company, youll get to speak at the annual meeting of shareholders. It can diminish investor confidence if you pass out during annual meetings.
Accomplished public speakers replace this terror with trepidation. They have a whole collection of tricks that give them the appearance of competence and confidence. One of these tactics that youve probably heard about is to imagine your audience naked. It is very important to note that it is the audience you should think of as naked, not yourself. This will make you feel confident that none of your naked listeners will be interviewed on television, telling everyone what a lousy speaker you are.
Another technique worth adopting is to work from an outline instead of reading your speech word-by-word. I used to help an executive prepare speeches. He was more nervous than a test subject at a tattoo college. When he read a speech, he would hyperventilate, so he insisted that at key points in his speech, I insert the instruction "breathe." Of course, most of us dont have to be told to breathe, but, as I said, he was an executive. I regarded it as a mark of my professionalism that I never, ever inserted instructions such as "yank tongue out with pliers" or "skip briskly around room," despite the constant temptation to do so.
Lots of speakers realize that they can discharge their nervous energy through physical activity. Before they get up on the podium, they do a couple of deep-knee bends, or vigorously shake their arms, and the really good speakers do this where the audience cant see them.
Gestures are important in releasing nervous energy, so you should be sure to flail around when youre speaking. Many speakers make the mistake of gripping the lectern. This has the effect of routing the positive ions of their nervous energy into the microphone, which then makes a noise like BWEEEEEESCRRREEEEEE. Youve probably also seen speakers who jam their hands in their pockets and have to release their nervous energy by jangling their keys and change, which is why its always a good idea to rehearse your speech with your pants off.
Should you use visual aids? I dont recommend it. If an audience has a choice of either looking at you or looking at a two-color bar graph projected on screen in such a way as to be too small for them to be able to read it, youre sunk. If you do use visual aids, you will feel compelled to use one of those laser pointers. Laser pointers are the marriage of technology and annoyance, and I believe they should be banned.
Thank you for your attention, and now Id be glad to take your questions. Feel free to get dressed anytime.
Dan Danbom was the secret author of Nixons "Checkers Speech."