Leadership Simplified: Doug Van Dyke

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Public Speakers, and our Fears, are Made not Born


How to overcome the fear of public speaking and reinvent yourself as a crowd pleaser


By Doug Van Dyke, Leadership Coach

Approximate Read Time: 7 minutes

"Fear, the air is ripe with it.” - Orc General, The Lord of the Rings, Return of the King As we enter this Halloween season, it's much easier to get caught up in the fears that come with being the managers and executives of our business. It's like losing our flashlight in the corn maze all over again - we experience all the fright, but none of the fun. There are a lot of fears out there can stop us from motivating our team and winning over a new client – some merited, but most not. According to phobialist.com the following are actual fears that people experience:

  • Knowledge - Gnosiophobia
  • Money - Chrometophobia
  • Expressing Opinions - Doxophobia
  • Wealth - Plutophobia
  • Speaking - Laliophobia

Let’s take a detailed peek at the last phobia listed, the fear of speaking, specifically the fear of public speaking. After reading through the post, feel free to share any memorable public speaking moments that you relish, or would rather forget. Many speaking fears arise from witnessing colossal public speaking blunders that others have made. Now, who can forget some of these jewels?

Consider organizing your thoughts before you speak:

Focus Rudi, focus:

Work on the beginning, as well as the content:

Sometimes silence is the best path:

Statistically, the fear of public speaking is our greatest fear – even more so than snakes, going to the dentist, and death! But it does not have to be that way. Armed with powerful tools and a positive mindset, public speaking can be turned into something fun and meaningful. Keep this in mind: while many speakers have natural acumen, most great speakers are made, not born. So how do leaders raise the bar with regard to their public speaking skills? Well, based on my experience with coaching thousands of leaders who frequently speak publicly, there are five core ingredients to reducing your fears and delivering successful presentations.

1. Practice, Practice, Practice

The most important ingredient is to practice! When I say practice what I mean is to rehearse the presentation, out loud, in a setting similar to the one in which you will be speaking. Also, practice your presentation at least three to five times prior to making the presentation. In other words, if you are going to speak publicly for fifteen minutes and you want to be successful, practice a minimum of 45 minutes. While practicing, inject humor and side comments – just like you will during the real presentation. It is important to take note of what practice is not. For instance, silently reading your presentation is NOT practice. Saying your presentation aloud in the car while you are driving is also not practice. Remember: it is only practice when you are in a similar setting and practice your presentation aloud – in a manner just like you are going to deliver it to your audience.

2. Deep Breathing

The second core ingredient for success is breathing. Now, maybe you are saying to yourself: “breathing is something I like to do frequently.” Well, some speakers talk fast as though they want to complete their public speaking experience as quickly as possible. A fast pace can have a speaker panting three minutes into their presentation. Remember, speaking is an endurance sport. Do not start off in a blur and blow it at the beginning of your talk. For many speakers, a case of nervousness causes us to take rapid, shallow breaths. All shallow breathing does is make us even more nervous because our system is not receiving adequate oxygen, which is a natural relaxant. We need a lot of oxygen in order to appear calm to our audience. As such, prior to beginning your presentation, and in an area where you won’t be obvious, take four slow, deep breaths and fully exhale. This action will assist you in gaining critical oxygen and in allowing you to relax during the beginning of your presentation. An additional item to keep in mind is planning for deep breaths during your presentation. They are easy to slip in during a brief pause, or while the audience is laughing.

3. Hydrate

Before or during a presentation many speakers experience a dry mouth. In order to eliminate this problem, I recommend drinking 8 – 12 ounces of water one-hour prior to your presentation. Something very important to remember is to go to the bathroom five minutes before speaking publicly. Having to go to the bathroom five minutes in to your presentation can cause a great deal of stress – and, we don’t want that. Drinking water prior to delivering a presentation ensures that our brain has adequate fluids. When our brains are hydrated they perform at their highest level. We want to make certain that we are sharp while speaking publicly. One more tip: make certain that a glass or bottle of water is handy so that you can take sips during pauses in your presentation.

4. Host Mentality

Imagine that you are hosting a mixer. The people in the audience are your guests. Make certain that you arrive early so that you can greet people as they arrive. Shake lots of hands and smile. In other words, seek to build rapport with individual audience members prior to the presentation. Even if you know everyone in the audience, shake hands and greet them. By bonding with your audience you will reduce your nerves and ensure that many members of the audience are in your corner.

5. Be Positive and Optimistic

Remember, no one in the audience wants you to fail. Have you ever gone to see someone speak and hoped that they were terrible? Of course not! We selfishly want speakers to be good so that we are entertained. Your audience wants you to be great – feed off that. In sum, if you believe in yourself and act confidently, your audience will relax and respond appropriately. Alright leaders, time to overcome your fear of public speaking. Your team needs lots of communication these days. Show great leadership by frequently speaking to groups of people, and giving them a good dose of your confidence. Move your team in a positive direction. In the process, look in the mirror and realize they are lucky to have your inspired leadership.

Keep these points with you all the time or share them with your coworkers.

Download the five tips for public speaking.

Doug Van Dyke is an executive coach, speaker, and training expert. His new book is entitled Leadership Simplified – The Field Guide for Savvy Leaders and is for sale at our Productivity Store and Amazon.com.

Posted by Doug Van Dyke on 2008-10-21 at 02:19 PM
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Pragmatic Optimism

Perhaps we could all use a little review of five items that I believe are particularly important these days. If this gets a little preachy, I apologize unreservedly. Indulge me, please.

1. Honestly assess the business environment. Seek to see things the way they are, not the way they are painted by the media or pundits.
2. Stop worrying about things you cannot control.

3. Focus on what we can control.  

4. Look for opportunities. In Mandarin, the literal translation of the word crisis is “danger/opportunity.”

5. Practice pragmatic optimism. What I mean by pragmatic optimism (and this is not from Webster’s) is this:
Pragmatic Optimism: Maintaining a positive state of mind and acknowledging that the world offers an amazing amount of opportunities, while embracing the relevant realities of your business situation.     

Posted by Doug Van Dyke on 2008-10-02 at 02:38 PM
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