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Dread speaking? 6 ways to overcome it

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The South by Southwest festivals and conferences each spring feature many experts, some of whom are not expert speakers.

One of them, Thom Singer, has written a book, The ABC’s of Speaking, geared especially for the shy expert.

Aside from not using an opening joke (if it falls flat, you’re sunk), he has these recommendations:

1. Keep it to two or three points. This lets you go deeper instead of skimming. Remember to leave time for questions (if you don’t get any, rethink the presentation), and remember that your session isn’t an infomercial.

2. Mix it up for different listeners. Some people like facts and statistics. Others prefer stories and examples. If you only have one or the other, you’ll lose people.

3. Hold a premeeting with panelists in person, by phone or by Skype so everyone is on the same page. You’ll figure out how the talk flows and also feel more comfortable with one another. Break up the topic by expertise and establish that everybody doesn’t need to speak on every question.

4. Try to curb any verbose panelists. At the premeeting, remind panelists not to dominate. Sometimes a big personality can take over. Chances are they don’t mean to hog the panel. They just do; they’re excited about the topic. If they forget, say something like, “Let’s hear from Bob on this.”

5. Make it easier for everybody. Avoid chunks of type and make the slides visually appealing. Assume that some of your audience will be on Twitter and announce a hashtag for the session at the start. If you want to monitor Twitter, ask someone else; you can’t do both.

6. It’s the audience that matters. “You’re not doing this so that people will look at you,” Singer says. “You’re doing it so that people can learn.” If you feel you’re losing them, say, “I’m getting the message you might like to take this in a different direction. Let’s go straight to questions.”

— Adapted from “Public-speaking tips from Austin author Thom Singer,” Sarah Beckham, Austin-American Statesman.

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