I don’t mind public speaking much…it’s spontaneous social interactions in formal group settings that get my heart racing and my knees knocking. To be specific, I’m afraid to contribute in settings like classes or business meetings. I know I’m intelligent and often have good ideas that others never come up with.
What makes me nervous about these situations are two things. First, lack of control over the situation. I can’t frame or direct the conversation in a group discussion as I could if I were standing in front of the room making a presentation. Second, I can’t plan ahead what to say and the best way to communicate it since I don’t know in advance where the discussion will go. I worry that when I start speaking, my voice will sound bad, or I’ll be at a loss for words and start pausing or stumbling. What tips can you offer to help me overcome this fear of making a fool out of myself in front of groups?
The joys of public speaking. I don’t know of anyone – even people who do public speaking as a living – who isn’t afraid, whether it’s talking to 50,000 or a small, formal group like the kind you alluded to.
When you mentioned that you are intelligent and come up with ideas others never think of, it shows that you do have something to say even though you’re afraid you won’t have anything to say or know how to best communicate it.
Bring a bottle of water with you, and take a few sips throughout the class or business meeting. Water will keep your mouth moist and help keep your voice from sounding hoarse.
The first thing you must remember is not to panic. When you panic, you freeze up and lose the ability to communicate those amazing ideas that you mentioned having. Take a deep breathe and concentrate only on the idea you want to present. Give yourself a few moments to think about what you want to say. Remember that when you’re presenting ideas, it’s not a marathon to see how fast you can get them out.
What’s more important is that you express the idea in the way you intend others to hear it. Don’t worry if they don’t understand it at first or ask for follow up questions. This only gives you more time to think about what you’re going to say and of other ways to communicate it to others.
Soon, you won’t have to worry about where the conversation will go, because you will already have a dialogue going, and the conversation will become much easier as you communicate back and forth with everybody in the group.
As far as framing or directing a conversation to where you want to go – take it is easy. You do this already without even realizing it. Whenever you contribute a question, attitude or idea about a certain topic, you are helping to set the tone. You can switch or re-frame it. For example: if you say that you hate the rain because it makes everything wet, I can re-frame it by saying something like, it makes the grass grow and helps cool it down when the weather is humid and unbearable.
Remember that if you can stand up in front of a whole group of people and give a speech, you can definitely feel confident when contributing to a small, formal group. The important thing to not forget is that your ideas will be appreciated if only you let others hear them.
If you do fumble, who cares. Even professionals do it from time to time. What’s most important is that you don’t let that affect you from continuing the interaction. Once you are in the moment, you will realize that it’s not as bad as you imagined it.