“If you have to be at a funeral, you would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy.” When comedian Jerry Seinfeld delivered that punchline during a Broadway show in 1998, he was appealing to a wide audience.The fear of public speaking — known as glossophobia — is among the world’s top phobias. As many as 73% of Americans suffer from a fear of public speaking, often ahead of other common phobias such as heights, spiders and clowns.With lockdown restrictions easing in many places and a possible end in sight to seemingly endless virtual meetings, you might be starting to get the public speaking jitters again. CNN spoke to four public speaking experts for advice on how to beat post-lockdown stage fright.
1. Have a clear, written intention
“Write your speech — this may seem like an obvious one, but in the age of Zoom we have become more accustomed to winging it,” explains Lawrence Bernstein, speechwriter and director of Great Speech Writing, a UK-based speech writing and coaching company.
“There is this bizarre sense that if you were talking on Zoom, somehow it didn’t quite matter as much,” he adds. “There is the get-out clause of pressing escape, in the event of panic, (and) just being able to disappear.”Bernstein suggests identifying one point you want people to remember from the speech and focusing on that goal with every line you write. “If you don’t know what the ultimate point of your speech is, I think it will fail,” he says.
2. Be empathetic
With so much time spent indoors over the last year, many people are more inclined than ever to introspection. To appeal to an audience’s ego, you have to make them feel like you’re talking to them directly — and the way to do that is to be empathetic.
“Michelle Obama is massively underrated,” Bernstein says, adding that what makes her a great speaker is the relevance of her speeches, her clarity, and ultimately her empathy.How one speech forever connected Lou Gehrig, baseball and this fatal diseaseThat’s the key combination, he says. “You can be relevant and clear — that’s all very well and good, but Alexa is relevant and clear,” Bernstein tells CNN. “Alexa will give me a very relevant answer that is clear to my needs but lacks empathy. Only a human can do all three together.”
3. Keep it short and sweet
After a year and a half online, attention spans have been sapped, explains speech coach and learning consultant Alan Barker.”One of the key things that will have changed in the audience is (the) level of patience,” says Barker. “You can create something really dynamic and interesting in five or six minutes. Once you’ve done that, going back to 45 minutes seems kind of ridiculous.”Keeping in mind that the maximum length of a TED talk is 18 minutes, distill your speech down to only the crucial points. This will mean a shorter speech and one that is focused and clear.
4. Bring your message to life
Barker says he uses the acronym “P.R.A.I.S.E.” as a technique to bring material to life. “‘P’ stands for proverb,” he says; if you can express your message using a common saying, it will be more memorable.Next, ‘R’ for resonate. Barker says it’s important to use concrete examples that demonstrate your idea.”
‘A’ is for attention-grabbers,” he says. He suggests using language devices such as the rule of three, rhythmic devices and rhetorical questions.’I’ stands for influence. “How can you use your reputation, your credibility?” asks Barker.
Steve Jobs gave the most watched commencement speech of all time 01:23″‘S’ is for stories,” he says. He advises using narrative, as “stories have a shape that’s inherently satisfying and are an easy way to engage your audience.”And finally, ‘E’ for emotion. Barker says in order to elevate your speech, you have to present your audience with something they can engage with emotionally.
5. Use an appropriate volume
When learning to speak in public we are usually taught to project our voices. Consultant speech and language therapist Sharon Adjei-Nicol thinks that long periods of digital communication may have left us with the opposite problem.Adjei-Nicol says we might need to make a conscious effort to avoid shouting. Remember that live audiences don’t have the option to reduce your volume.”Online communication tends to lead to people talking quite loudly or shouting,” she says. “There is an adjustment that needs to be made as we resume ‘3D’ communication about what is a normal volume.”
6. Move around
During this virtual age of the pandemic, we’ve only seen heads and shoulders — so capitalize on being out from behind your desk; gesture, move around, and make the most of the space you have.”Make use of the environment,” says Adjei-Nicol. “It could be about how the room is set up, it could be about where you stand to speak, how much you move around, use of props.”Body language offers essential non-verbal cues that greatly enhance our ability to communicate. “Stand up, walk about a little and use natural body gestures such as an open palm to compliment what you are saying,” she suggests.
7. Use your vulnerability
Physical comedian Luke Rollason thinks that great speakers aren’t too polished. “People like [UK prime minister] Boris Johnson so much because there’s so much mess there,” he says.Sixty years ago, this JFK speech launched America’s race to the moonRollason feels that Hillary Clinton’s concession speech after the 2016 US presidential election is a good example of one that inspired support through compassion.”Maybe it’s just that we feel sorry for them,” says Rollason. “Whatever it is, I think it’s undeniable: your vulnerability is so important.”
8. Build a relationship with your audience
“The main piece of advice I give someone is just breathe and relax your face,” says Rollason. He says once you relax your face, you’re then able to talk to your audience on the terms of what’s happening in the room.
According to Rollason, your relationship with your audience is the most important factor as it influences whether your speech achieves what you intended. “Most of my material is absolute rubbish,” he says, “which means I really have to survive on a relationship with an audience.”
9. Be Brave
It’s normal to be terrified of public speaking. Remember that your audience understands the horror that is stage fright, and hopefully they will empathize with you. “You’re essentially a sacrificial lamb because they don’t want to be where you are,” says Rollason, and whether it’s a best man speech or an office presentation, “everyone’s pretty happy it’s you and not them.”
By Nadia Leigh-Hewitson, CNN