The most fearful part of the speech

Recently a local firm engaged me to help a junior associate with a few areas of professional development, including her ability to give public presentations. Although competent and equipped with intelligence to deliver quality information, this attorney didn’t trust her own ability to speak with confidence.

Once we sat down I asked her, “What is the worst part of the speech for you?” Quickly she shared, “the beginning. I get so anxious before I begin the presentation,that for the first few minutes during it, my voice quivers, my hands shake and I can’t help but pay attention to my own fears. It makes me a blubbering idiot.”

Whether she really is a blubbering idiot during the introduction of her presentation or not, she thinks she is. And whatever we tell ourselves – as in her case, “I’m a blubbering idiot” – becomes true. At least to us, if not to others. That perspective shapes her focus and creates a public speaking experience that holds her back from delivering with confidence.

Not uncommon, the introduction is the section of the speech least-effectively designed. Many create a chit-chat, or introduce themselves in a rambling way that demonstrates their anxiety. It does little to shift their focus from their anxiety to their strength. And the audience sees them sweat.

Speaking professionals know there are 2 key areas of any presentation that demand quality control – the introduction and the conclusion. While the introduction can demonstrate our lack of speaking finesse, the conclusion can leave our overall point hanging. So to ramp up your presentation, take note of the following:

1. Focus on the audience during both your introduction and conclusion.
2. Ask key questions to engage their attention in the topic you are addressing during the introduction.
3. In the conclusion, remind them of the key points and return to the opening questions to tie it together.
4. End strongly – avoiding, “Well, that’s what I have for you.”

Controlling these two areas of our presentations gives us confidence. Our focus shifts from watching ourselves to paying attention to those in front of and around us, extending our energy outward vs. inward.

In my client’s case, I watched her begin strongly, focusing where she needed to – on those in front of her. There was no mumbling, no visible shaking, and instead, a smile and a sense of humor. By the time she had shared the meat of the presentation, she was on a roll and ready to end succinctly.

Additional tip:
Whether you are prepared well or hardly at all, chances are your body will act the same – give you butterflies. Those butterflies are built-in energy. Although most people experience this energy with negative responses, learn to see this energy as important and even necessary. In this way you can shift from anxiety to excitement, knowing your prepared speech will have the energy it needs.

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On September 22nd, 2010, posted in: confidence, focus by