Communicate with Confidence – Taking the fear out of public speaking

Your technical skills are honed to a fine-tooth edge. You’re a ninja when it comes to Active Directory, SQL, or Exchange. Server crash? You got this! PowerShell scripting? It’s your superpower! Speaking in front of an audience? Handling an upset customer? Answer the unanticipated question? Your palms sweat, your stomach hurts, your head spins. “Someone, anyone, please help!” is all you can think.

We have all heard people are more afraid of public speaking than they are of death. Have you had to speak with a customer or in front of an audience? While a certain level of anxiety is normal, you can learn how to master the art of communication whether it’s one-on-one, in meetings, or in front of an audience. Read on to learn how to teach your butterflies to fly in formation!

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Yes, you can!

You may be saying to yourself, no way. Not me. Not possible. I truly would rather die than give a presentation or talk to someone I don’t know. Let me tell you a short story to encourage you that it is possible to overcome your fears.

Many years ago, I met a man, we’ll call him Jim. Jim was so terrified of talking to people he could not even say hello when he was introduced to someone. At his wife’s urging, they joined a group called Toastmasters International™. Jim’s first goal was to stand up in front of the group for 30 seconds. Easy you say. Not for Jim. His anxiety was so high, it took him several months just to hit the 30 second mark.

Jim then set a second goal. He wanted to be able to say “hello” to his audience. Again, it took several months before Jim was able to confidently utter the words, “Good evening fellow Toastmasters.”

Fast forward several years. I was working a local event for the Chamber of Commerce. And who did I see at the event? Jim! Not only was Jim at the event, he came up to me and said hello. He let me know that because he learned to overcome his fear of public speaking, he now had his own business selling eye glass frames and was doing well with it!

If Jim was able to overcome his fears, I know you can too! In this series of blogs, I am going to teach you the basics of public speaking, provide resources to assist you, and help you build the confidence you desire to take control of the butterflies!

Interpersonal Communication

Before we dive into public speaking, AKA delivering a presentation to an audience regardles of size, let’s look at interpersonal communication.

Interpersonal communication is simply a conversation between two people. It can be positive or negative. Positive conversations might include talking with a co-worker about your weekend, a casual conversation with a customer, or meeting someone new. While these can be stressful situations, it is typically the difficult conversations that cause us high levels of anxiety. These conversations might include disputing a charge on a bill, a discussion with your auto mechanic about what is really wrong with your car versus what he tells you is wrong (and how much it will cost to repair it!), being interviewed for a new position, or dealing with an unhappy customer.

Each of these conversations can be challenging and stressful. However, if you have the necessary skills, handling uncomfortable conversations will no longer cause you to sweat. And, once you master these, you will be able to master the art of public speaking, aka MIP delivery, with ease!

ToastmastersLevels of Conversation

Every relationship starts with conversation. Toastmasters International™ (TI) defines four levels of conversation. Level One is small talk – talking about the weather, maybe a concert or play, current events, etc. At this level, the conversation remains neutral and does not typically delve into personal topics or opinions.

Level Two is the fact finding and disclosure level. Here we are starting to build enough trust to disclose a few personal facts about ourselves. May we discuss our occupations, if we are married or single, our kids, or our hobbies. At this level, we are looking for common ground to see if we wish to continue to invest in a relationship with the other person.

Level Three raises the stakes. We are feeling comfortable and positive with the other person and our conversations. This may occur at the initial meeting or at later subsequent meetings. You begin to express personal opinions on different topics and may discuss different viewpoints. You are opening yourself up to the other person.

Finally, you reach Level Four. The relationship is deepening and there is a strong comfort level with this person. You share similar views and find you have enough in common to want to continue the relationship. Several encounters are usually needed to reach this level. Topics are now of a more personal nature. You may disclose an issue you are having with your spouse, kids, or at work and seek advice, discuss concerns you both have, or other topics you would not disclose or discuss with a stranger.

Not all conversations/relationships will make it to Level Four. Nor should they. In the business environment, you will most likely only speak with your customer at Level One or Level Two. If you move through the levels too quickly, you could overwhelm the other person making them shut down to whatever it is you are sharing or the message you wish to communicate. Your customer probably doesn’t care about the argument you had with your child, or your neighbor who keeps letting their dog destroy your yard. Getting too personal in the workplace can diminish your professionalism and detract from your credibility with your customer.

What we’ve learned

In this post, we learned you are not alone in your fear of public speaking. We also learned you can overcome this fear! We learned about Toastmasters’ four levels of interpersonal communication. This will allow us to tailor our conversations to the environment in which we find ourselves, as well as giving us guidelines on how fast to move when desiring to build a relationship or rapport with another person. It also allows us to see we should not strive to engage at all levels with all people in which we find ourselves in conversation.

Next time…

In my next post, I will introduce you to tips and tricks for dealing with those difficult conversations we all must have at one time or another including “does it really help to picture the audience in their underwear?”

Until then,

– pjz –

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