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Conquer Your Public Speaking Fear in the New Year

Conquer Your Public Speaking Fear in the New Year

A Practical Guide for How to Speak in Public 

You stand up to speak. Your mouth is dry, your heart is beating out of your chest, and you can’t think straight. Many people avoid public speaking all together—in fact, 74% of us are terrified of it and many prefer death to the thought addressing an audience.

It makes sense. Not too long ago, you could be exiled for saying something disagreeable to your fellow humans, and you would be 26% more likely to die if that happened. It’s no wonder then that public speaking triggers our fight-or-flight response.

Just because public speaking makes you feel like you’re about to die doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it (promise!). The key is not to eliminate nerves—that’s setting yourself up for failure. Instead, institute a system that puts you in the driver’s seat of your own voice and makes you feel in control.

We believe that great speakers are made, not born. If you have never spoken in public (or if you have and it didn’t go well) making the decision to overcome your fear is step number one.

In January of last year, Na’ilah Amaru made a decision to overcome her fear of public speaking. Seven months after coming to Bespoken, she addressed the nation onstage at the Democratic National Convention to introduce Hillary Clinton with poise, power and precision.

Na’ilah exceeded her expected goal but we recommend starting small—public speaking doesn’t have to mean addressing a crowd at a podium on national television. It can be speaking up in a meeting, introducing yourself at a networking event, or pitching to a group of investors. Choose a speaking engagement that is achievable and set yourself up to succeed.  Schedule a meeting, apply to a pitch night, or sign up to speak at a community board meeting.

Overwhelmed? Break it down

Deciding to speak in public is a big step so pat yourself on the back! It’s a huge undertaking, and one that takes preparation and practice. Creating a plan for yourself moves public speaking from the scary abstract to the doable specific. Break the process down into actionable steps as much as possible. Here’s a suggested starting point:

Identify your audience

Are you addressing eager students or seasoned executives? Understanding your audience helps you pinpoint their needs, which takes the focus off of you.

Name your objective

Specify what you want your intended audience to do immediately after hearing you speak. Do you want them to hire you? Go to your website? Buy your product? Sign up for your newsletter? Be specific!

Familiarize yourself with the environment

Will you be onstage, in a boardroom or in an elevator?  How big is the room and will there be a microphone? Envisioning the space during the preparation process is essential to success.

See content creation as a journey

Knowing what you want to say takes time. Jot down some ideas and let it soak for a few days. Create an outline of bulleted items you want to include. Perfection is the enemy of good and speaking is dynamic so don’t finalize anything!

Practice

We know that practice is essential and yet, we avoid it and wing it anyway. Deciding to actually work on it sets you up to succeed. Your goal should not be to get it right but instead to practice so you can’t get it wrong. Don’t expect to hit it out of the park the first time you stand to speak it out loud. It’ll be messy, and that’s the point: You’re figuring it out!

Harness nerves

The only thing to fear is fear itself, and fearing nerves gives them power. Accept that nerves are a part of the process. Ask others what their reactions are to public speaking and you’ll find that most people experience similar physical sensations, making you feel less alone. They may call it adrenaline and you may call it anxiety but it’s all the same. Speak it out while running on a treadmill to get comfortable in the discomfort.

Seek feedback

Don’t let the event itself be the first time you do it. Join Toastmasters or ask a trusted friend to come be an outside eye. Better yet, stage a test run in the safety of your own home and welcome constructive criticism on your turf.

Be present

Presence onstage is the exchange of energy, so make connecting with your audience your primary goal. Make eye contact. Breathe. Be in your body. Know that nothing can go wrong because you have prepared.

Still overwhelmed? Break it down even more, and most importantly, make the plan your own. You know yourself better than anyone and you will only succeed if you feel ownership over the process.

How to Bespoken

How to Bespoken

At Bespoken, we help people across all industries speak powerfully, particularly in high-pressure situations. Our work is interactive and collaborative, but also highly personalized, which can make describing what we do challenging. We’re excited to be tackling the art of making human connection–possibly the most gratifying experience there is–and each connection we forge teaches us more about the work ourselves. In the first part of this series, we describe our process in order to give you an inside look into the way we work.

Our Mission

We help you speak powerfully and purposefully through customized coaching designed to harness your unique ability to communicate in any situation. We believe everyone has an innate ability to communicate when given the tools to do so. We employ proactive and practical theater techniques to help you optimize the connection you make with your audience and to give you more control over the impression you make.

Our Clients

We work across many different industries but our clients have one thing in common–they each have something to communicate in a verbal context, whether that’s presenting, pitching, networking, interviewing, etc. We help them be better communicators internally with colleagues and externally with clients.

We’ve worked with entrepreneurs looking to hone a presentation; filmmakers pitching a grant maker for additional funds to finish a project; executive directors looking to improve leadership and communication skills; members of the healthcare sector  imparting sensitive information telephonically; and freelancers at a co-working space seeking tips for networking in high-pressure situations.

Our Structure

When working one-on-one, we meet over multiple sessions to identify and hone a specific communication challenge. Goals are usually achieved in three-to-five 1-hour sessions.

In our masterclasses, a small group (i.e., freelancers at a co-working space) gets a Bespoken primer. Masterclasses usually run 1.5-to-3 hours and can accommodate up to 12 participants. We also collaborate with organizations to meet their specific needs through customized internal workshops.

Host a masterclass at your organization
Host a masterclass at your organization

Regardless of the structure, you leave with a conversational narrative that’s authentic, tools to help you relax when speaking in front of a crowd, control over the way you present yourself, confidence in your communication style and command of your vocal and physical choices. We help you articulate your unique perspective. We help you find your literal and metaphorical voice. We give you more control over the way you present yourself and your ideas. We teach you how to be your best self in the moments that matter most.

Our Process

At Bespoken, we first help you dissect, organize and shape your ideas. We then train you to make powerful verbal and physical choices to support those ideas and together we develop and ingrain personalized techniques, tips and tricks to help you commit to those choices in high-pressure situations.

We begin with an intake meeting to discuss challenges, goals and logistics and to make sure the process and purpose of the work is understood. Guided by the fundamental creative process of making theater, we work through three phases:

  1. Craft It – Together, we identify the audience and craft a distinctive message that articulates your vision.
  2. Work It – On your feet, you learn how to use your voice and body to engage your audience.
  3. Own It – Through rehearsal and situational role-play, techniques are refined and ingrained.

Get in touch with us to find out how we can help you own the room, speak from the heart and free your mind!

Own the Room at WeWork on August 6th

Own the Room at WeWork on August 6th

(This event is only available to WeWork members. Have you been to a WeWork? They are beautiful (and super convenient) co-working spaces offering community programming (like our event below!) to freelancers and startups. Check them out!) 

How did your last pitch or team meeting go?  Did you communicate your ideas effectively, or did you leave feeling like the experience was in control of you instead of the other way around?  Like with most things, you only get better at the things you practice and you get better faster practicing with people who understand the challenges that come with networking, pitching, and presenting.

Join us on August 6th at WeWork Empire State for our interactive, on-your-feet Own the Room masterclass where you’ll learn proactive techniques to improve your vocal command and physical presence. You’ll leave with personalized, in-the-moment feedback to help you speak confidently and authentically in any situation.

Click here to register – space is extremely limited!

Let’s Talk About Public Speaking

Let’s Talk About Public Speaking

Statistically, more people claim that they would rather die than give a speech.

If you have a fear of speaking in public, it’s little comfort to hear that you are not alone. But according to the National Institute of Mental Health, a whopping 74% of people admitted to experiencing Glossophobia — the fancy (and fun!) name for speech anxiety. So, why do we feel so alone, helpless even, when this totally understandable and common phenomena occurs?

If you’ve stood in front of an audience about to make a speech, presentation or pitch, you know just how terrifying it can be — and if you’re passionate about your topic, that fear may be magnified, even debilitating. If you’ve had a traumatic speaking experience in the past, it may come back to haunt you when you’re prepping or even presenting. It’s a cycle — we have a bad experience, we convince ourselves we’re incapable of overcoming what made it so darn hard the last time, and so we either avoid it all together or allow those fears to be the focal point the next time we do it, resulting in another bad experience and perpetuating the cycle. No matter how much we intellectually understand it, we make ourselves believe that it comes naturally to some people, just not to us.

In that case, it makes perfect sense that we feel so alone — the cycle doesn’t allow us to include the audience in the process. We feel afraid of the audience and, no surprise, that makes us feel even more alone. The trick is to learn how to use the audience, to see them as collaborators in sharing your story. It takes practice and planning, but a shift occurs, it is no longer you against them. They become your friends, your support — they become exactly what you need them to be in order to be your most comfortable and confident self in those moments that matter most.

And here’s a thing to consider: If 74% of us are terrified of speaking in public, then are the other 26% of us all rock-star presenters with no fear or self-judgment? Are only 26% of us presenting ourselves and our ideas effectively? I don’t think so. I think it’s far more likely that at least a portion of the people in your audience feel exactly the way you do, even admire your ability to reveal yourself to a crowd. That energy, if you can tap into it, can propel you — but you’ve got to be open to your audience to feed off of it.

The fact that most of us experience this and we’re not talking about it only feeds the fear — the collective fear — of public speaking. We’ve built this wall of expectation around speaking in public — it’s supposed to be something, and all we know is that the way we’re doing it is wrong. We can only see the failed attempt from our past or the perfect, nonexistent experience in some imaginary future. Our collective fear combines with our historical fear to make it impossible to live the present moment.

So let’s talk about it! Let’s deflate it and unpack it. Then let’s laugh about it as we present ourselves — flaws, fears and all — to an audience of people who know exactly how we feel — and who are cheering us on.