NECC Observer

The student news website of Northern Essex Community College, Haverhill and Lawrence, Mass.

The Fear of Public Speaking

The number one fear in America, according to the Washington Post in October 2014, is the fear of public speaking.

It is a highly common fear for most people, and many feel alone.

Students watch celebrities, politicians or business leaders speak on television or in public, and they seem to be so at ease and calm. Some may wonder, are great public speakers made, or are they just born that way?

It may be true that some individuals are born with this gift — the vast majority of effective speakers have been trained by themselves or by others to be so. They have received formal media training or they have delivered many speeches that over time they’ve learned what works for them and it becomes routine.

College students are preparing for the future, which includes interviews with potential employers, a field in business or marketing or a position as a teacher.

At some point everyone will have to face public speaking whether it be a class or for a future occupation. Here are some tips to develop into a great public speaker.

An audience wants to listen to a speaker who is interesting, relaxed and comfortable. Everyone has routine conversations every day and people do not have any problems with being themselves. Yet too often, when they stands up to give a speech, something changes.

The anxiety settles in, palms sweaty, hands shaking, heart racing and thoughts of doubt creep into the mind. There is too much focus on the public and their reaction to what the speaker is saying at the expense of the actual speaking.

To develop as an effective public speaker, he or she must do the opposite. Focus on the words that you will be speaking and let go of the “public” audience listening. Think of it as a conversation between you and the audience.

If someone can carries on a casual conversation with one or two people, they can give a great speech. Whether their audience consists of two people or two hundred, and whether they’re talking about the latest internet sensation, or what they did today during class, they should be themselves.

Students should talk directly to people, make brief eye contact and make a connection with them. If the thought of looking at a member of the audience is too nerve wracking, it is helpful to scan just above their heads.

There is no direct eye contact and to the audience it appears to them that the speaker is making contact with them. Another tip is to find an object in the background whether it be a clock or a sign, find focus in that, and speak.

Effective body language can support the message and project a strong image of the speaker. Audiences pay more attention to a speaker whose body language is energetic with positive gestures. The most effective movements are ones that reflect the presenter’s personal investment in the speech.

Speakers should use their hands. They couldn’t keep them on their hips, in their pockets, or folded across their chest. Those positions could tell the audience, that the speaker is closed off and uncomfortable. The use of hands can help to emphasize a point, express emotion, release tension and help to engage with the audience.

Some of the most accomplished public speakers will make a mistake at some point. Always keep in mind that they’ll notice more than anyone in the audience. The most important action a speaker can do after making a mistake is to keep going.

Speakers should not stop and unless the mistake was truly devastating, speakers should never apologize to the audience for a minor slip or being nervous. Unless they are reading the speech while they are talking, the audience won’t know if their was a word left out, a page was skipped or if the wrong name was said or mispronounced.

For the most part, the audience will not have a copy of the speech, but if the scenario is presented in the future, continue on with speech as if a mistake never occurred.

A mistake can actually work for some speakers because it can allow for the speaker to connect with the audience. People don’t want to hear from someone who is “perfect.” An audience will relate much more easily to someone who is real and themselves.

Winners in sports, academics or politics all have a common resolute vision — they practice visualization to achieve their goals. Athletes close their eyes and imagine themselves scoring that goal, hitting that home run or breaking that record. Mathletes envision themselves finding the answers quickly and correctly. Politicians picture themselves as the next senator, mayor, or town selectman.

The same is true in public speaking. The best way to fight anxiety and to become a more composed speaker is to practice in their heads. Visualizing the speech consistently will make it a routine. The mind will become used to the idea of speaking in public, and pretty soon any feelings of anxiety can be conquered.
The goal in developing to be a great public speaker is not to be a perfect public speaker. There is no such thing. An important aspect of giving a speech is to be an effective public speaker. Like riding a bike, or hitting a baseball, it takes practice. Too often communication is taken for granted..

But when a person’s success is directly linked to how well they perform in front a group, it’s important to give the task the same attention as if they were a professional athlete. Remember, even world champion athletes practice every day.

Whatever the topic is, audiences react best when speakers personalize their diction. People like to hear about other people’s experiences whether it be achievements, failures and everyday humorous stories that make up their lives.

Whenever possible, tell stories. Include a personal-interest component in public speaking. Not only will it make your listeners warm up to the speaker and gain their attention, but it will also really help at putting the speaker at ease. It’s easier to incorporate something personal or relative to the speech that the speaker has knowledge on. Thoughts flow into words, presenting a confident speaker, which can form a great presentation.

It is always important to have a form of contact or interaction with the audience. A twist that can help to take some of the fear out of public speaking, is to shift the focus off of oneself as the speaker and move that focus toward the audience.
The objective in most speeches is not to benefit the speaker, but for the audience to benefit and take something away from the speech.

An audience can leave the speech with concepts through teaching, motivation or entertainment. As a speaker, they should think of the purpose behind the preparation and presentation. Ask the question before presenting, how can one help audience members achieve their goals, learn about a certain topic or discover something new?

One thing they may learn along the way in developing to become a comfortable public speaker is when it comes to talking in front of a crowd, less is more. Try to make the presentation a little bit shorter than anticipated. With proper preparation and taking some of this advice, as the presentation progresses, they won’t realize how quickly the time will pass as they are speaking.

It is best to leave listeners wishing they had spoken for just a few more minutes than squirming in their seats waiting for the speech to finally end. NECC offers a course on public speaking, which will teach effective construction and delivery of various types of speeches. The course concentrates on informative, persuasive, and impromptu speeches and with other types as well.

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