How to Speak Up without Freaking Out

Today we have a guest post from Matt Abrahams. Matt is a passionate, collaborative and innovative educator and coach who teaches Stategic Communication for Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and Presentation Skills for Stanford’s Continuing Studies Program, and De Anza College. He has published research articles on cognitive planning, persuasion, and interpersonal communication.

Matt recently published Speaking Up Without Freaking Out, a book written to help the millions of people who suffer from anxiety around speaking in public. Matt received his undergraduate degree in psychology from Stanford; his graduate degree in communication studies from UC Davis; and his secondary education teaching credential from SFSU.

The Book of Lists has repeatedly reported that the fear of speaking in public is the most frequent answer to the question “What scares you most?” In fact, people rate speaking anxiety 10-to-20 percent higher than the fear of death, the fear of heights, the fear of spiders and the fear of fire.

As a student of mine once joked: “People would rather stand naked while on fire, overlooking a 30-story fall and covered with spiders and snakes than give a speech.”

The fear of presenting in front of others is real and can be very limiting – in terms of career growth and interpersonal relationships – for those who suffer from it. The good news is that, with practice and persistence, novice speakers can become more confident and compelling. Keep in mind that the goal is not to overcome your anxiety. Rather, the objective is to find a few strategies or techniques for managing your fear.

Managed speaking anxiety can be beneficial in several ways: It helps you to focus on your speaking task, provides you with energy, motivates you to care about your communicative outcomes and encourages you to prepare. Of course, reaping these benefits requires you to adjust and adapt to your fear.

Feeling anxious undermines your credibility, which is really the only currency you have as a speaker. If your audience does not see you as trustworthy, experienced or believable, then they are highly unlikely to support whatever you are advocating. In my mind, counteracting anxiety’s impact to your credibility is about three disparate but intimately related concepts:

  1. Your knowledge of both your topic and your audience (so you can focus on the audience’s needs)
  2. The source of your anxiety and the associated anxiety-management techniques that address the underlying cause
  3. The anxiety-provoking behaviors you likely enact as you prepare your presentation, such as procrastination, perfectionism and lack of practice

Join me for a webinar on November 6 to learn more about how you can protect your credibility and deliver more confident and compelling presentations by speaking up without freaking out.

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