Q: I know that conducting seminars is a great way for me to boost my credibility and generate clients and referrals for my consulting business, but I'm scared to death of public speaking. What are some practical ways for me to get over this? The thought of speaking to an audience really freaks me out!
A: Take comfort in this: You're definitely not alone. Forty million Americans are so terrified of speaking to a group that they'd do almost anything to avoid it. In fact, according to an oft-cited study done by Brushkin-Goldring, more people said they feared public speaking than feared death.
Why do people clam up? The primary reason, according to Lilyan Wilder, author of 7 Steps to Fearless Speaking and a consultant to broadcast correspondents at ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN, is that many people dread feeling isolated when they are the focal point in the room. "If you're seated - especially if you're behind a table--you have protection. You're on an equal basis with the people you're speaking to around the table," says Wilder. "But when you stand up, the pressure's on: You've got to be the leader. You've got to show the way. Then you suddenly feel the palpitations, you get short of breath, your hands may shake and knees buckle."
How can you overcome the fear of public speaking to accomplish your marketing and publicity goals? Here are five tips:
1. Do what you fear--and do it often. If your problem is speaking in public, tackle it head on. Try to speak at as many public venues as you possibly can until you dominate that fear. When you do, you'll find that people are really there to hear from you and learn from what you have to say.
2. Take stock of your assets. On a sheet of paper, write down the reasons why you think your message should be heard and why you're the best person to communicate that information. This exercise will boost your confidence when you feel most intimidated.
3. Start in a low-risk environment. Build your confidence by speaking regularly to smaller, more sympathetic audiences before taking on a high-stakes speech.
4. Put your fear in perspective. Which is more terrifying to you--giving a speech in front of 50 people or not fulfilling your business or career goals? How will giving in to this fear affect your salary or sales levels? Put a dollar amount on what you stand to lose if you allow the fear of public speaking to hold you back. Is it worth the price?
5. Read books that "pump" you up. Need a major confidence boost before you give your next talk? These books offer the encouragement and practical tips you need to speak with poise and persuasion:
- The Complete Idiot's Guide to Speaking in Public With Confidence by Laurie Rozakis
- How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Sean Lyden is the CEO of Prestige Positioning (a service of The Professional Writing Firm Inc.), an Atlanta-based firm that "positions" clients as leading experts in their field-through ghost-written articles and books for publication. Clients include Morgan Stanley, IFG Securities, SunTrust Service Corp. and several professional advisory and management consulting firms nationwide.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.