“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that seem right? That means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
This a renowned joke by Jerry Seinfeld referring to a 1977 study on people’s fears where fear of public speaking rates higher than the fear of death. It turns out the study was a little flawed in its execution but the fact remains that most people dread delivering a speech. People generally worry that everything that they imagine could go horribly wrong, will go horribly wrong. But most likely, it won’t. Fact. Recent research proved that 85% of the stuff we worry about never actually happens.
Everybody displays some kind of nervous disposition before and during the delivery of a speech. Richard Branson enlightens us to the reality (via Mark Twain) in his book The Virgin Way: Everything I Know About Leadership, “There are only two types of speakers in the world: 1. The nervous and 2. Liars.” The simplest way to combat those public speaking jitters is to take a moment to check in with yourself and work out what your caveman brain is telling you. The human brain has only evolved by 10 per cent in the past 50,000 years. Most of your brain is still very much living in the past. 90% of you is hanging around the cave, fighting off perceived predators. We have a built in negativity bias.
So, at the onset of those nerves, pause, breathe deeply, smile and follow my three point state check: Fact, Think, Feel.
Fact: ‘I am feeling rather nervous about delivering this speech.’
Think: ‘The sabre toothed tigers in the audience are not going to kill me if I mess this up, because there aren’t any sabre toothed tigers in this audience. They are just people who want to hear what I have to say.’
Feel: ‘ Phew! Actually, this is a great opportunity. I am excited!’
Obviously, this is a very brief synopsis of your internal conversation, there will undoubtedly be more threads! Author Adam Grant, a prolific keynote speaker, explains the theory: “In clever research, Harvard professor Alison Wood Brooks asked people to give a public speech on what would make them good colleagues. Anxiety alert: they would be videotaped and evaluated by a committee. More than 90 percent of people said the best strategy was to calm down. But it didn’t work. When independent raters evaluated the speeches, people who tried to relax ended up giving speeches that lacked persuasiveness and confidence.” Instead of saying “I am calm,” people gave more compelling speeches when they said “I am excited.” The same was true when people were anxious before singing, saying “I’m excited” led to a more accurate karaoke performance than saying “I’m calm.”
It is much easier to convert anxiety into another strong emotion like excitement.
Feeling our way around a situation will always give us better results than trying to suppress our emotions. The more we numb our emotions the less alive we will feel; the less alive and passionate we feel the less your audience will engage with you. So embrace your nerves and turn them into something powerful and positive!
I was super chuffed to be asked to speak at TEDxUtrecht and it really focused my attention. It gave me some great insight on how to deliver a good TED talk and next time I am determined to get these spot on!
1. Be laser-like on your message. You don’t have long, there is no room for vagueness. Know the point you are making and practice different deliveries until you have it spot on.
2. Be tight and loose. Rehearse and run it to time and make sure that you have a couple of minutes to spare. Those two minutes allow you to then improvise in the moment and stretch off as you warm in to the material and the audience
3. Two to three stories and a punchline. It’s all you have time for.
4. Practice the connections – make sure one story flows into the next fluidly.
5. Enjoy the other speakers. You will learn things from them. The more interested you are in the other talks, the less you will rewrite your session or build up nerves as the day unfolds. My spot was last in the day so for me, this tip was imperative.
6. Warmly embrace help. TED offer a coach and an experienced support team. Be clear on what you want to do but listen generously to their advice as those nuggets could be invaluable.
7. Backstage fun. The folk organising this do an amazing job. Most of them are volunteers and life enriching people. Enjoy your time with them. It will help you relax and deliver your best performance. Don’t let the nerves get in your way of having a party.
8. Hair and make up. Essential.
9. Start and finish crisp. It’s what folk remember
10. Enjoy! This is your show and you have a story to tell. Tell it your way with heart and soul and the world will be richer for it. Don’t worry about what people will think, just concern yourself with being you and the rest will flow beautifully.
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