Three out of four chief executives fear to speak in public more than anything. How can this be? After all, they are confident and powerful people sitting at the tip of their industries.
The problem is that they want to be authentic when they speak but do not know how to be themselves in public. Their natural charisma does not shine through from the podium. They look wooden, sound hollow and appear distant. Their followers do not know who they are. The audience needs to believe in their message. Trust is the issue.
So what can leaders do to find their authentic voice? The starting point is honesty – courage to be your imperfect self in front of others. It is our human failings that bring us closer to others. It is our vulnerabilities that make us more credible to our followers. Our authenticity provides a space for others to fill.
Fear is false expectations appearing real. Fear is the enemy of authenticity. Fear freezes spontaneity. Fear is a barrier between us and our audience. What are we afraid of?
Reputation is all we have. We survive and thrive in our social groups dependent on our status and our social brains are wired to build relationships. When we speak in public our reputation is on the line and we are terrified that our reputation will be damaged; our status undermined, our very survival threatened.
Overcoming your fear
Say to yourself – “I care but not that much”. Take some pressure off yourself. It is not about you, it is about them. If you have something that will help your audience, then you have a purpose. The limbic system – the emotional centre of the brain – needs to know why it should listen.
P O W E R presentation guidelines
Three easy-to-remember rules offer a good grounding for effective public speaking:
Personality – they have come to see you not a slide show
One message – you have to know your point in order to make your point
Why are you talking? (And why will they listen?) – passion without purpose is pointless
Empathic concern – you should put yourself in their shoes, but first you need to remove your own shoes
Response – what do you want your audience to do after your presentation? Prepare with your end in mind.
Communication takes place in silence
Not when you are talking. When you say something important pause at the end and look at them in silence. They will have a chance to think about what you said. And you will have a chance to read their body language to see how they are receiving it. By looking at them and making eye contact you are connecting emotionally and saying to them that you believe in what you are saying.
Ten top tips for speaking in public
10. End powerfully with a call to action. Do not forget to enjoy the experience. Smile and your audience will smile with you.
We all have a fundamental human right to be heard – to make a contribution to our community. The key to public speaking is to have the courage to speak with your authentic voice in the service of others. Your audience does not want you to be perfect, it just wants to believe in you and listen to how you can help.
Next time you are asked to speak in public find your authentic voice and let your natural personality shine through and do the talking.
“It is our light that most frightens us” – Nelson Mandela
*This article was featured in the June/July 2015 edition of The Journal – www.cii.co.uk