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Overcoming fear of public speaking

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in Leaders & Managers,Workplace Communication

Q. I’ve been asked to lead some training seminars for groups of employees at my company. I hate public speaking, and I really hate teaching people who seem a lot older and smarter than me. In the two sessions I’ve already led, I’ve been mortified when I try to ask questions and the group just sits there, silent. I wind up making a fool of myself. What can I do?

A. Here’s the first rule: Do not keep telling yourself that you dread public speaking. Each time you mutter this (to yourself or others), you reinforce a self-image as a terrible speaker. What’s worse, you give yourself an excuse to fail—or at least not to perform at your full potential.

Second, learn to love silence. When you pose a question to the audience, wait at least seven seconds for a response (it’ll seem like an eternity, so bear down and expect that). Maintain a friendly facial expression and keep your eyes riveted on different individuals in the room. Don’t look away or start fiddling with your notes or otherwise appear distracted. If no one responds after the seconds have ticked away, call on an individual by name and then repeat the question. (Rephrase it to make it clearer, if you think that’ll help.)

When you finally get someone to answer, do not interrupt or offer instant feedback. By remaining silent, you might find that others piggyback on what was said—and a full-fledged discussion gets going.

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