Practice, practice, practice.
Everyone knows that practice is important. To “flip the fear” of public speaking, practice is essential. Even more essential, is specific, positive practice that builds on strengths and boosts confidence.
In the book Influencers, Patterson et al. (2008) describe methods for deliberate practice, building on the concept originally outlined by Anders Erickson. These concepts are directly applicable to improving public speaking skills. Seven methods for “flipping the fear” of public speaking through deliberate practice are listed below:
Effectively practice “flipping the fear” of public speaking:
1. Choose your audience carefully
“To encourage people to do something they fear, you must provide rapid feedback that builds self-confidence” (Quote from Dr. Albert Bandura in Influencers, 2008). When practicing, choose audience you know will be supportive. This means not choosing an audience that might be too critical or even envious of your attempt at improvement. Toastmasters or supportive friends/family is a great way to start.
2. Make use of your audience.
The best way to determine what is effective about your speaking is to ask for feedback. When practicing, even in front of one other person, ask what the audience specifically found effective about your presentation. Focus initially on the positive elements and building on strengths.
3. Get specific.
When asking for feedback, help the audience by providing specific areas for comments such as: appearance, voice volume, tone or pitch, content, visual effects, body language etc.
4. Set SMART goals.
For each specific area of focus, set specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, relevant and timely goals for improvement. For example, to focus on improving voice volume: “Giving my speech at Toastmasters tomorrow, I will ask one audience member at the back of the room to stop at two minute intervals during my eight minute speech and provide a volume rating. My goal is to have a volume rating of appropriate/comfortable in three out of four voice checks.”
5. Frame failure as success.
Napoleon Hill is famous for saying, “Every failure carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.” View your failures, which likely are not as bad as you think, as necessary bumps in the road. Celebrate them as they come and know that they are an essential part of the success to come.
6. Recognize the “fight or flight” reflex for what it is.
We are programmed to respond to stress in fast, effective methods. This is where the thought “I would rather run out of this room than stand up and present” comes from. To break the “flight” response during a speech, activate the cognitive part of the brain by jumping into your topic. In Flip the Fear of Public Speaking: Five Proven Principles, this is called “Speaking in the Moment.” When deeply engaged in speech material your brain will be focused on content, delivery, and connecting with the audience rather than focusing on how to get you away from danger.
7. Have fun.
Behavior is more likely to be repeated if it is enjoyable. Have fun with your practice sessions. Incorporate humor and develop the ability to laugh at your mistakes. Play around with emotion and body language. Enjoy connecting with your audience, and beginning to “flip the fear” of public speaking
Note: for those looking for an excellent read on behavior change and influence in healthcare, Influencer: The Power to Change Anything (2008) is a great book!