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How to speak with more confidence and less fear (review)

public speakingThis review first ran in the June 15th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Your Guide to Public Speaking: Build Your Confidence, Find Your Voice and Inspire Your Audience

By Amanda Hennessey

Adams Media

$21.99

You have five minutes to prepare an impromptu talk on a topic you’ve just been assigned.

You’ll then give your talk without notes, a script or PowerPoint slides.

Welcome to the Christopher Leadership Course in Effective Speaking.

I wandered way outside my comfort zone to wrestle with my fear of public speaking. If this been our first assignment, I would’ve bolted for the door or sweated it out and seized up when I took the floor.

But this was week six and we’d received great coaching and votes of confidence from our volunteer instructors. We had a fool-proof four-step formula to structure our talks*. And we’d put in our reps thanks to lots of solo and group warm-ups and practice presentations.

You won’t find my impromptu talk in the annals of the world’s greatest speeches. But I survived and inflicted minimal pain and suffering on my classmates.

And then I was blown away. I was voluntold to go first so I heard everyone’s impromptu talk. I’ve worked with many senior leaders over the years. I can count on one hand the number of executives who could speak with the same authenticity, confidence and enthusiasm as my classmates. Practice doesn’t make perfect but it goes a long way in making us much more effective speakers.

Not enough of us get that opportunity, says Amanda Hennessey, founder of Boston Public Speaking and author of Your Guide to Public Speaking.

“No matter what you are asked to present or who’s asking you to speak, you want to be able to engage the task with confidence and enthusiasm,” says Hennessey. “If you’ve never received any kind of training on how to approach public speaking or how to dynamically share your message with an audience, you’re not alone.”

Public speaking is about conveying your thoughts to a group. “If the phrase public speaking freaks you out, then substitute the phrases sharing ideas or having a conversation or think of it like talking with people – authentically, from the heart, soul and brain – for a specific purpose.”

While you’re the one at the front of the room, it’s not actually about you. You aren’t the star of the show. It’s all about your audience. What’s at stake for them? What do they have to gain or lose based on what you have to say? Serving your audience, rather than receiving their praise and admiration, should be your sole focus. It’s the best way to keep your fear and anxiety in check, says Hennessey.

“When you step back and think deeply about why you are speaking to a group about a particular topic, you will be less stressed if you do not make it all about you, your status, your image, and your reputation. If you get fired up about the impact you can make, your passion will be your fuel.

“Rather than trying to get something from your audience, be concerned with creating a compelling experience for them. After all, you are there to give a talk or presentation, not to get one. Be generous as you give.”

To give a great and generous talk, think about who it’s for and why you’re giving it. Define the problem and the solution for your audience and figure out how best to explain both using stories, examples, ideas, facts and figures. And then decide what you want your audience to do. What’s your call to action?

Hennessey offers confidence-building tools to make you a more effective speaker. You’ll learn what to do with your hands, how to stand, breath, strip out vocal tics, prepare and rehearse and a whole lot more.

If you’re like the majority of us who’d rather receive than give a eulogy, read Hennessey’s book and then face your fears by registering for the Christopher Leadership Course in Effective Speaking. You’ll be in good hands and practicing before the most supportive audience you’ll ever get to talk with.

Here’s a four-step fool-proof structure for your next presentation:

  1. Lead off with an attention-grabbing opening statement.
  2. State the point of your talk and deliver your main message.
  3. Provide 3-4 examples and proof points that reinforce your main message.
  4. Close by reiterating your main message and leaving the audience with a call to action.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999. 

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