A quarter of people fear public speaking more than dying – here’s how to beat your fear

Do you get petrified when you’re asked to speak to a group of people? You’re not alone.

Do you get petrified when you’re asked to speak to a group of people? You’re not alone.

A new survey conducted by Newspoll for training website Reasontospeak.com found that 23% of people rate public speaking as their greatest fear, just behind death itself, which was nominated as the great fear by 27% of the 1206 respondents.

Money makes no difference to the fear of speaking; the survey reveals that households with an income of more than $70,000 fear public speaking just as much as the national average of 23%.

But a person’s level of education does appear to make a difference. Of those respondents whose highest level of education completed was high school, 28% indicated public speaking as their worse fear. But on average 15% of those respondents who had a university degree nominated public speaking as their number one fear.

Paul Griffiths, founder of Reasontospeak.com, lectures on public speaking at the Australian Graduate School of Management and has worked with clients including Commonwealth Bank, CSR Limited and Coca-Cola Amatil. He says the fear of public speaking is often learned in primary school, when kids struggle to talk or read in front of a class.

“It all comes back to what we saw and decided to hate doing when we were at school. But the good thing is that it’s a learnt fear, and we can unlearn it.”

He has a few good tips to help SME business owners get over their fear of public speaking:

Give them the “benefit” early:
At the beginning of every presentation, answer the audience’s question immediately. They’re asking “what’s in this for me?” and “why should I watch/listen?” Let them know the benefit of listening to you right up front.

Keep each individual in mind:
Many people say they have a “tipping point” when it comes to the size of the audience they’re presenting to – they are fine to present to 20 people, but struggle to present to 40. Try to be very rational here. Any audience starts with just one person. Then you add one, then one more, then another one, and another.

Too much reliance on notes:
Take your planning to the next level every time. Bring it back to key words and simple phrases, as holding on to a script and relying so much on notes gives the audience the impression that you are a “reader” rather than a “sayer”. Throw the notes away and say it like it is.

If you’re a hands userm use ‘em to show your passion:
Your hands help your brain enormously. Hands also help underline the stresses of the words, give them life, and help to add-in variation of modulation and pitch.

Make sure you’re speech is “active” rather than “passive”:
In spoken English, the simpler, the better. "The cat sat on the mat" is much better (because of its “active voice”) than "it was on the mat that the cat was sitting" (with its “passive voice”). Try to keep your sentences simple and, therefore, active!

Accentuate the positives:
Tell them the positives before you tell them the negatives when you want people to agree with you. In this way, you’ve elevated their decision-making framework up to the heights and they can measure the negatives against those heights.

Use the ending to get what you want:
Sadly, many Australians allow the last few seconds of a good presentation to just tail away. The very best finish is the one that gives the audience something to do. Make your call to action something like “send me an email”, “plan your next steps” or “be prepared to go through them here next week”.

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