When public speaking becomes a nightmare

Updated: Jul 30 2006, 05:30am hrs
Envision this. Your heart starts racing. Your hands get clammy. You cant remember your name. Your knees are weak. And everyone is staring at you. In fact, all you can envision is humiliating yourself in front of an audience that matters to you.

Yes, youre about to give a presentation. Deja vu

Dont worry. You are not alone. There are many others who cant think of anything worse.

It doesnt matter who that audience is. In fact, I know a salesperson who is perfectly comfortable giving a presentation to a large companys senior management team but quakes in his shoes at the idea of making a thoughtful toast at his office anniversary party. One of my daughters teachers once told me her greatest fear was public speaking. Yet she gets up in front of a class of 40, often harsh critics, five days a week!

Over the many decades Dale Carnegie Training has been working to help people communicate, weve become very well-known for teaching people how to speak in public. Yet, I must admit, theres very little teaching involved. It really is just a matter of gaining the self-confidence to do what comes naturally.

To gain the confidence to overcome the fear of speaking to any group, consider these three things:

You have earned the right to speak on this subject. Chances are that you wouldnt have been asked to talk about the subject if somebody didnt think you were an expert. If you really arent the best person to talk about the subject, give someone else the opportunity. Youll be helping the audience as well as yourself. I mentioned this to the salesperson before his parents party and he thanked me profusely. He agreed that no one else knew his parents as well as he did. In fact, after our conversation, he was adamant that no one else could have this important role at the party.

Get excited about the subject. If youve earned the right to talk about something, chances are you have something pretty exciting to say to people.

Be still when you have nothing to say, when genuine passion moves you, say what youve got to say, and say it hot. Is it a new work process that you helped develop Is it the fact that your parents marriage survived 50 years of hardship Is it your devotion to a political cause

It doesnt matter how mundane the subject, you CAN get excited about it.

A few years ago, one of our training sessions had a nurse who was asked to speak about washing hands at an upcoming overseas convention. Everybody learns this in nursing school, she lamented. What could I possibly tell them thats new By the session before the convention, she was truly excited. She realised that with all the attention being given to contagious diseases such as AIDS and hepatitis, it didnt matter if she had anything new to say. She could save lives just by giving the audience a refresher course.

Be eager to project the value to your listener. The nurse had found the value in her message. You can do the same. Simply decide what the one thing is youd like to say about this subject and how it could change someones life or their view of a situation. For example, after one anniversary party, my friend said a cousin came up to him and told him his toast to his parents was so moving that he realised his own marriage was worth working on.

With these three thoughts, you can conquer any fear of talking in public. Your excitement and eagerness will overcome any lapses in speaking style. And your audience will know that you were the right person for that job.

The writer is director, Dale Carnegie Training.