Some years ago when we did our first survey of attitudes towards public speaking in business 71% of respondents cited public speaking as the most worrisome element of business life. Filter that down to finance professionals and that number increased to 86%. The latest survey is indicating the percentage has dropped to a percentile in the forties. Whatever the truth there is no doubt that public speaking in front of large audiences seems to be at the forefront of concerns amongst people who come to Aziz Corporate to raise their presentation game.
When we talk about public speaking there are of course many different elements to this umbrella term. Many people these days are comfortable presenting around a table, thinking it is in reality just an extended chat, although in real terms it requires the same approach as with any speaking challenge. However psychologically it is the large audience that daunts most people. All those shining upturned faces expecting you as a business leader to float their boat. At Aziz Corporate we have had two recent clients who both faced such challenges. They both happened to be women but they could just as easily have been men. Both were seasoned business people, one in their forties the other in her late fifties. Both had climbed the greasy pole of business life during a period when it certainly had been more difficult than it is for today’s women in their twenties starting out. Both clients were highly technocratic, one a lawyer, the other accountancy trained with a specialism in venture capital. Both were highly competent, out performers in their fields.
It was the transition from technical expert to charismatic business leader that had both worried. Leaving the comfort blanket of what you know – precision and knowledge guaranteed – and opting for the black art that makes for great public speaking proved troubling for both. The challenge for both was to face large audiences, both external and internal and wow them whilst at the same time being true to their discipline. The last thing they wanted was to come across as snake oil salesmen.
So here with have technically competent people, used to public speaking. They know the theory, and they could put it into practice. So where’s the problem? Well, it’s that third obstacle to becoming a great public speaker – psychology. It’s identifying the little demons who whisper into your ear just as you get up to speak – “They’re going to kill you! You’re going to die!” It is of course an irrational fear and much fear is based on the unknown. The answer? Get to know the unknown!
Through proper preparation, understanding the audience, consulting with those who know audience, and making time to rehearse your great words, that much of the fear can be eliminated. Follow a methodical plan and you will end up in a much better place. Our two professional women after just a few sessions were already reporting feelings of greater confidence. They were actively seeking out opportunities try out their newly founds skills. One even took on a Mother-of-the-Bride speech and brought the house down! Neither of them has looked back.
Inevitably when speaking to large audiences there still will be some fear – large audiences can do that to even the most seasoned of campaigners. But remember, it’s OK to have butterflies. The trick is to get them flying in formation.