This story was originally published in March 2019.
Have you ever had to get up in front of a room full of people to talk and find yourself sweating, feeling waves of nervousness and nausea wash over you as your mind goes blank? Speaking in public can make even the most stoic and calm of us want to run for the hills.
According to the National Social Anxiety Center, fear of public speaking, or glossophobia, affects more than 74% of the American population. That’s a lot of people who get nervous about having to speak in front of others. Ultimately, with a little preparation and a desire to do well, anyone can speak with confidence in front of a crowd.
Bangor Metro contacted three well-known Mainers who have mastered the art of public speaking, and they gave some really fabulous advice.
Don’t be afraid to step out of the script
One of the biggest fears about public speaking is that you might be saying the wrong thing during your speech. Crystal Ponti, freelance journalist and host of the historic podcast Historium Unearthia, believes slips are golden moments that make your speech even better.
“While it helps to have a clear and structured plan and script, things can feel a bit robotic when you don’t stray from your prepared remarks,” Ponti told Bangor Metro. “While I’m speaking, I’m always gauging the audience’s reaction. Did something specific cause a visible or verbal reaction? A laugh? A collective nod? If so, I try to add more to my presentation. It could be a little comedy movie or maybe something specific or unique to that audience or place. “
At a recent public lecture at a supposedly haunted library, Ponti found herself in an unusual situation when her speech suddenly went off the rails.
“When there was a loud noise in the background, I immediately asked the ghost to reserve his questions until the end. This caused quite an uproar. It also gave me the opportunity to plug in the last episode of my podcast, which was a New England ghost story, ”Ponti explained. “So look for clues and don’t be afraid to step out of the script. If you’ve practiced and are well prepared, stepping out of the script isn’t as daunting as it sounds.
It is practice makes perfect
The fear of having a blank mind during a conversation is enough to make anyone nervous. That’s why WABI TV5 presenter and journalist Catherine Pegram recommends creating a plan and putting it into practice.
“Write an outline or key points you want to cover following the beginning, middle, and end storytelling format. You’ll be less nervous when you know what you want to say, instead of doing it, ”Pegram said, adding that the next step is to start speaking.
“Practice giving the speech aloud, preferably in front of someone who can support you. If that’s not possible, try it in front of a mirror or maybe in a stuffed animal room to make you feel like an audience, ”Pegram said. “Whatever venue you choose, it is essential to review your speech aloud. Sometimes your ears can detect mistakes or parts that you would like to change better than your eyes. After all, this is also how the audience will receive the message – through their ears. “
Dr Steve Smith, also known as McKay, a former meteorologist for WLBZ-Bangor and now a public speaking professor at Husson University, agrees. He adds that people should think of speaking in public in the same vein as athletes, musicians or teachers: everyone has to practice their profession to be amazing.
“Repetition is the key. Plus, knowing your topic is essential, ”Smith said. “While it’s important to organize information before presenting it, the key to public speaking isn’t memorizing a script. The key to speaking in public, especially in “real time”, is knowing your topic well and then having confidence that you will be able to convey that information to an audience. “
Quick tips for the oral part
Smith suggested that a few key strategies can help keep your conversation running smoothly. The first strategy? To slow down.
“Nervousness tends to speed up our pace, which is not helpful. Use a deliberate, steady pace, ”Smith said.
Smith also suggested that speakers make sure they have regular, but not constant, eye contact with audience members, as this shows good body language. But beware of nervousness.
“Be aware that nervousness always manifests itself in one way or another physically. For some it’s wringing their hands, for some it’s adjusting clothes, for some it’s coming and going, ”Smith explained. “This physical manifestation usually happens without even being aware of it. So, as you practice, notice how much nervousness might “come out” of your body. Being aware of it is the first step in eliminating it.
Give yourself a pep talk
You researched and organized, wrote your speech and practiced in front of your friends and your dog. Now what?
“I highly recommend the Power Pose or, as some experts call it, the Wonder Woman Pose,” Ponti explained. “Right before you speak, stand up straight and place your hands on your hips. Pump up your chest, take a deep breath, and smile. Then remember that you belonged, that you have something useful to say, and that your audience is happy to hear from you.
You might even remember that the experience of public speaking lends itself well to other important skills in your life.
“Developing your public speaking skills can give you an overall sense of confidence throughout your day,” Pegram emphasizes. “And it can help you deal with a variety of life situations that can be nerve-racking, from a conversation with an employer that might lead to a new job opportunity to resolving a dispute when a company is trying to overcharge you. You learn to get your point across and to do it confidently. “
Tell yourself that you are ready, that you are capable and that you are motivated. So go out there and give your awesome speech. With enough preparation and practice, you can overcome your glossophobia and become one of the 10 percent of the American population who enjoys public speaking.
This story originally appeared in the March 2019 issue of Bangor Metro. To subscribe to the magazine, click here.