In part one of the article, I covered the importance of developing personal communications skills, the consequences of not possessing those skills, and the fundamental approach I take in helping professionals become master speakers. In this second part of the article, I deal with the four most common obstacles that have frustrated many professionals in their efforts to elevate their verbal skills and to achieve a high level of confidence in their public speaking performance.
The four obstacles are:
1. Fear of Speaking
2. Not sounding credible
3. Not being able to think "in-the-moment"
1.Fear of Speaking
The number one fear in our society is speaking in public.
I can tell you that no amount of techniques or tricks -- no amount of practicing gestures or developing a "professional voice" will come close to relieving your fear of speaking. What works immediately is to begin with some thoughtful and rational contemplation of the phenomenon.
The most important thing to remember is that we need to define what kind of speaking produces this paralyzing fear for so many people. The old theory is that with the right posture, an authoritative-sounding voice and a seamlessly fluid delivery of content, we will be successful.
Most presentation skills training is based on this out-of-date theory. They still rely heavily on how to “look” confident and “sound” confident.
But Consider this:
We learn to speak in daily conversations; each of us has a lifetime of experience in that. But Public speaking is an “unnatural” way of communicating for most people. When we find ourselves in an unfamiliar territory, we lose confidence.
People of integrity most often experience fear of public speaking. They feel artificial and self-conscious when they are required to speak in this unusual way. Being “authentic” is often the highest value that a professional holds. Feeling, or the anticipation of feeling inauthentic can be very stressful and our natural ability to converse may desert us.
Many people are frankly out of their element when it comes to verbal communication – almost literally like a “fish out of water,” gasping to return to their natural environment of solitude, return to reading and writing.
Most professionals abandon their natural speaking skills under pressure. The very things that make a superb communicator in a comfortable environment are jettisoned as soon as the number of people in the room increases or the stakes get higher.
Then we fall into the habit of “reciting” our material – which combined with trying to “look” and “sound” confident – makes many public speakers look like really bad actors.
Three stressful characteristics of public speaking
There are different characteristics in public speaking. Some enable the speaker, engage both the audience and the speaker, and instill confidence in all participants. There are a few ways, however, that have negative impacts - they undermine the effectiveness of the speaker, make the process increasingly stressful, and worsen her/his fear of speaking along the way.
Following three characteristics are common in ineffective public speaking:
First, “One way” communication, where the speaker speaks continuously without paying attention to the listener. This is an artificial speaking style that tends to lose the audience.
Secondly, presenting material that is designed to be read, verbally. This is another “unnatural” speaking style that also tends to alienate the audience.
Thirdly, speaking in a “scheduled” way, with a previously set starting and finishing time. This is another unnatural way that seldom, if ever, exists in every day conversation. Unless the speaker is trained and experienced in dealing with the time constraints, speaking by a stopwatch can be very stressful.
Fear of speaking is not rational. However, the above styles of speech delivery, with their negative responses from the audience or the speaker’s own distress, only make things worse.
2.Not Sounding Credible
Many lawyers suffer intense anxiety when delivering their information verbally. While speaking, they feel that they are constantly forced to move forward with the text, without time to deal with doubts that the listener might have in the process. They feel disconnected. There is usually a split focus – the anxiety about delivering effectively combines with the anxiety of wondering if the points have been well taken – and all of this in the context of having to constantly move forward with the presentation.
Add to this the exhortations to stand, to gesture and to speak forcefully – and you have a perfect recipe for a panic attack!
3.Unable to Think on Your Feet
The unexpected question – or even the thought of the unexpected question - is for many speakers, terrifying.
According to a survey of my clients in the past ten years, these are the most common fears: “not knowing the answer,” “knowing the answer but forgetting it in the moment”, “giving the wrong answer”, “giving the right answer but missing out a key part of it,” “not knowing if all of the points have been made,” and “not knowing how to finish speaking.”
Blanking refers to the awkward situation when the speaker forgets what she is supposed to say at a critical moment.
Blanking most often happens when the speaker feels compelled to speak without pause for reflection, and when the recitation of her speaking notes is not connected to any real thought at this moment. In these circumstances, anxiety is inevitable and blanking is not only possible but probable.
Read and Engage the Audience
So, you are absolutely right to be frightened of this kind of speaking – the question is “is there another way of speaking?” Yes, there is!
Consider speaking a process of interplay between the speaker and the audience, with the purpose to engage yourself fully in reading the audience and reacting to the audience’s response. The most effective cure for fear of speaking is to free ourselves of self-consciousness by being present in the moment.
How to prepare your material also makes a world of difference. We need to prepare our material for the “ear,” not for the “eye”. Speaking is a much more emotional experience for the listener than reading. The listener depends on our performance to discover the “meaning” of what we are saying – and the speaker needs to be alert to the listener’s response. And so in this long, round about way, we come back to the kind of personal communications we learned as children – totally in the moment, totally engaged and totally interactive.
Really effective speakers realize that every presentation is actually a conversation – and when the material is properly prepared, it can be tailored and adapted continuously throughout the presentation. As in a normal conversation, we can pay attention to the listeners and actually read their response from moment to moment. This is why reading presentations or memorizing presentations verbatim is so dangerous. The listeners sense that they are listening to a recitation and do not feel involved. Of course this simply increases the anxiety of the speaker and it becomes progressively more uncomfortable.
We admire eloquence, we know how valuable eloquence is – we may fervently wish that we had been born eloquent – but we are not.
The truth is that eloquence is quite easily achieved within the context of a particular profession or area of expertise. Eloquence is simply a process of creating powerful statements about all of those issues that you are dealing with – polishing them, memorizing them and then assembling them in different combinations to fit the circumstances. Most eloquent speeches are simply a “medley” of people’s best thoughts on a subject that they have had years and years to reflect on.
To acquire a high level of eloquence is a three-step process. First, understand what makes a statement memorable. Secondly, systematically develop powerful and memorable statements within your particular area of interest. Thirdly, practice and polish.
Along with the eloquence you’ve developed, the positive interplays between you as the speaker and the audience surely initiate a benign cycle towards higher levels of your performance. Each communication you deliver, with a high level of effectiveness and confidence that matches your professional strengths, will inevitably contribute to your successes. If you aspire to any type of management, mentoring or leadership role in your work, no matter what your area of expertise, your enhanced personal communication skills will enable you to go a long way in your career path.
These are just a few quick tips on developing a Commanding Presence. For more training on developing a Commanding Presence, managing anxiety, and increasing your speaking skills to the same high level as your writing skills then you should attend one of our Commanding Presence Advanced Communication and Presentation Skills Two-Day workshops.
The workshop is designed to improve every aspect of personal communication skills, from strategy and text preparation to establishing rapport and overcoming speaking anxiety.
Participants are recorded 4 times with feedback from the other participants and personal coaching from the workshop coach. Each receive a USB of their video clips along with a letter of analysis from the workshop coach.
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