Public Speaking: Should You Just Give Up?

I recently received this question from someone, and I had to share it:

“Suzannah, I’m so nervous when I have to give a presentation, I just can’t do it. I feel like everyone can see how nervous I am, I’m going to make a mistake and look like a total idiot.  Very often I’ll ask someone else at my company to speak instead of me, because I just can’t handle it. So can we agree that SOME people are just not meant to give presentations because of their fear, and they should just stop trying?”

And the answer is…

No.

Wait, let me re-phrase that….

REALLY no.

I wish I could be more empathetic on this, but it’s doesn’t look like that’s what’s happening here. But there is hope, dear readers, that despite whatever anxiety you’re feeling, you can create and deliver a presentation with full confidence.

In this post I’m proposing that you can experience great levels of success – both  personal and professional – when you decide to face the fear, say “yes” to giving that presentation (even if your brain is screaming “noooooooooo!!!”), and share your experience, expertise, and extra-amazing self.

Over the past 10 years, I have worked with some people who feel that they are suffering from a debilitating fear of public speaking. Debilitating, all-encompassing, all-consuming. And because I believe that everyone has the ‘speaker spark’ in them, I will still FORCE them outside their comfort zone to give even a short, 2-minute presentation. And what we find is that the very act of them standing up and doing it – seriously, just standing up and doing it – is a huge success for them (and no one actually passes out!).glossophobia

Sometimes just getting up and giving it a try is all you need to do to find out that in fact, you CAN do it. You just need some practice, some guidance, some focus….and sustained courage. Take solace in the fact that you are NOT alone, that many — actually, MOST of us — experience public speaking jitters at one time or another (a 2013 study from the National Institute of Mental Health says that 74% of all people have experienced speaking anxiety at one time or another).

Even professional speakers get nervous before they perform before an audience. The difference between them and the rest of the world is that the professionals expect to feel nervous, they take very specific steps to manage their nerves, they make speech preparation and practice a priority – and they know that whatever happens, they’ll get through it. The same can be said for you.

You have unique experience, education and talents that should be shared. Don’t hide it behind a fear of public speaking, or a fear that people won’t be interested in what you have to say. I know it isn’t easy. Speaking takes research, creativity, perseverance. It takes structure, focus, and clarity. And it takes time, effort and nerves of steel. But when done right, the result can be a powerful presentation that is structured in such a way that you not only engage your audience and deliver value, but can be life-changing for you as well, both personally and professionally.

Need some extra tools to prepare for an upcoming presentation? Then check out this quick video to learn about a surprise secret weapon to a fear of public speaking.

stepstoreachIf I’ve convinced you….or maybe just created a small spark of interest in taking a baby step towards discovering and improving your public speaking skills, there are tons of option of where to start. Take a continuing education class at your local university or community center. Join Toastmasters. Get a coach. But above all, start with saying “yes” to your next presentation. Practice in front of your most trusted colleagues, friends or family, get feedback, and just do it. And watch your life change as a result.

I still haven’t ever met anyone who I think should give up all attempts at public speaking. But if I ever do, I’ll let you know.

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