You’d think everyone would want to be better at speaking. It’s such a fundamental skill, no matter what business you’re in. It’s also a very valuable one.
In fact, gazillionaire investor Warren Buffett says speaking is the most valuable skill any professional can develop. He says communicating better can elevate your value by 50%.
And a University of Illinois professor gets specific. Deirdre McCloskey says a Silicon Valley coder might earn $40-80,000 based on technical skills alone. But a coder who can also talk coherently and confidently with a client can earn up to $120,000. That’s a significant difference!
Comments like these are music to my ears and evidently, I’m not alone. When I posted an Inc. article quoting these experts on my Facebook page, my speaker friends were quick to click on “Like.” And many shared the piece with their friends.
But not everyone is so enthusiastic about standing up and speaking in front of their colleagues or clients or others.
I hear from people who want no part of speaking, much less of working to get better at it. Others think communication skills probably would be a good thing to master, but not if they have to spend time and money developing that mastery.
How about you? Are you eager for opportunities to share your expertise? Or are you one of those keeping a low profile? Do you prefer to be in the audience instead of in the spotlight? Have you passed up the chance to inform, influence or inspire a group?
You probably have a reason for holding back. Let me guess…
- You don’t need that kind of attention; you really don’t like to stand out.
- You had a terrible experience giving a speech, say, in seventh grade. Kids made fun of you, even the teacher laughed. Ever since then you’re mortified if you have to talk to a group.
- You might make a mistake or be unable to answer a question.
- Someone in the audience could disagree with your position or criticize you.
- They might find out you don’t know as much as they thought you knew.
- What if you forget what you were supposed to say?
- Once you saw a speaker freeze in front of the audience—you wouldn’t want that to happen to you.
It all comes down to fear, doesn’t it? Sometimes we have elaborate explanations for dodging a demand to share our thoughts with a group. We might call it nerves, or butterflies, or even glossophobia.
It’s all just one degree or another of raw fear. Fear of being judged. Fear of looking foolish. Fear that they won’t like us.
We’d all rather be liked than not—it’s in our DNA and it’s evolutionarily sound. In the early days, humans lived in groups to stay safe; they needed each other. Getting kicked out of the clan put a person at real risk from predators.
No need to go out and face a saber-toothed tiger alone. But what if taking the risk to stand out and speak up could bring you new clients? Or a promotion? Or financial reward? Wouldn’t it be worth getting over the fear?
Here are some ways to calm your nerves when it comes to speaking:
- Stay away from caffeine when you’re about to take your place at the front of the room.
- Move your body – walk around, do some arm circles, even jumping jacks. Anything to discharge energy and loosen up.
- Sense your feet on the floor. Ground yourself. When we’re nervous, the energy gets stuck around our head and shoulders. As you sense your feet, that energy flows again.
- Put your attention on the power center just below your navel. Again, it’ll help slow the swirling energy.
- Breathe. You may even try some slow deep breathing before you speak.
- Pause before you begin to talk. Give yourself a moment to connect with your audience.
- Eye contact with individual listeners will help. They’re not just eyeballs staring at you. They’re human beings interested in what you have to say. Talk to them.
Of course, you’ll prepare yourself and know your material inside out. Know, too, that it’s possible to be confident, knowledgeable and nervous when you take the front of the room.
The anxiousness is just energy. Instead of trying to get rid of it, use that energy to connect with your audience.
You might imagine a ray of energy going from you to each of the people listening to you. Your eyes to their eyes. Your heart to their heart.
Remember: the main thing the audience wants from you is–you. Yes, they’re interested (you hope) in what you have to say. But the relationship you create with them trumps content every time.
Think of it as a conversation rather than a performance. You don’t have to impress, you don’t have to put on a show. You just need to connect with your audience, one person at a time.
You will be fine. Even if your face is flushed or your mouth is dry or your knees are weak. Got the butterflies? Take a ride on the butterflies’ wings. As you do, you…and your audience…will be able to relax and enjoy the conversation.
Still feeling a bit reluctant?
Post a comment below about what holds you back from speaking. Or commit to making the most of it from now on.