Glossophobia (noun) – the fear of public speaking. Not the most ideal quality in a technology consultant!
From time to time, I remember what it was like to feel completely paralysed at the prospect of standing up and presenting to a group of people – a commonplace fear known as ‘glossophobia’.
It seems so long ago and so far away now – it often takes someone else who is struggling with their confidence in presenting to confide their fears to spark my memory.
Large or small groups, colleagues, friends or strangers, the idea of standing up in front of anyone to speak would leave me dry mouthed and shaking.
What if someone asked a question I couldn’t answer? What if everyone thinks what I’m saying is dumb? Or obvious? Or boring? What if I have some of my son’s breakfast stuck to my jacket that I hadn’t noticed as I left the house?
Being comfortable that though there are things you don’t know, there is a lot you do!
The nerves don’t altogether go away: but I find it calming before a workshop or presentation to review what I am aiming to achieve and how I plan to do it.
- Am I delivering training?
- Then I am the expert on the material at hand and I am prepared.
- Am I eliciting requirements?
- Then my audience members are the experts and I will be able to respond to them.
- Am I running a demonstration?
- Again, I am the expert, and I need to strike the balance between delivering my training modules and assessing the audience understanding.
Quickly, the relationship is no longer that of a presenter and an audience, but of collaborators, which is far less intimidating. Goodbye, glossophobia!
Being comfortable with honesty
Everything always goes best when you are honest up front. If the answer to a question is particularly hairy, it is better to express that your are uncomfortable answering that question rather than attempting a lie or obfuscation.
But before you decide on avoiding a question, ask yourself: what is the impact of this person hearing what I have to say on this topic? Who am I trying to protect by not answering the question? Will I build trust by avoiding the question, or by giving an honest (but diplomatic!) answer?
A frequent example I have is where I need to provide guidance on making choices when assessing as-is and to-be processes. It is easier to say “yes” to everything and proceed with the assumption that the “client is always right”, but wouldn’t it be better to be honest and call out where things need to be evaluated or changed?
Pick the expert in your audience and get them involved
Just because you are the presenter doesn’t mean you need to be the only one talking:
- Include questions in your presentation to invite audience participation.
- Make eye contact with each person as you speak and see if you can spot someone with an idea they can contribute….
- …or throw it open to the crowd if it seems more than 1 or 2 people are engaged.
People love ideas and fostering an environment where people feel they can express those ideas will not only make for a feeling of achievement at the end of the session, it also takes some of the heat off you!
Don’t be afraid to allow participants to express their misgivings…
…and use it as a chance to refine your own thoughts and open a dialogue to solve the problem: engaging with all stakeholders in this open manner will lead to better and more inclusive outcomes in any workshop or presentation.
And, using the same principle as in the point above, invite people to express their doubts and tackle them head on. If you see someone in your audience with a frown or doubtful look, invite them to express their thoughts and engage with this as with any problem you need to solve.
Admit when you don’t know and admit when you’ve made a mistake
This one seems tough, but is really very simple. If you don’t know something, that’s ok. You are not expected to know everything, even if you are the expert in the room. Put yourself in the position of the questioner: would I be more confident at hearing a hesitant answer, an “I think” or a drawn out explanation, or hearing a simple admission of “I don’t know, let me follow that up for you.”
In an ideal world, we would handle all the things we don’t know in this way: though it may happen that in fact we are so sure of something that we do then put into words, that may be directly contradicted or corrected by an audience member or participant. This is not the worst thing to happen: it is ok to admit you were mistaken!
The worst case scenario.
Detractors remain detractors. Questions in the presentation remain unanswered. The audience remains silent and stony faced. You have few requirements and little idea on how to proceed. Trainees still look confused at the end of the session.
It is easy to walk away from an unsuccessful session, breathe a sigh of relief, and vow to avoid all public speaking related tasks for the rest of time. But that will become harder over time as you continue to avoid and make excuses.
But, if you approach your next speaking engagement with the lessons learned from the unsuccessful ones, and realise you’ve already experienced the hard slog, success won’t be too far away, and your confidence will grow as a result.
Don’t be embarrassed, we’re all human…
That thing I mentioned at the beginning, about having remnants of my son’s breakfast on my jacket that I hadn’t noticed? Yep, that did happen to me: about half way through a training session in a corporate office with about 10 attendees, I noticed the tell tale white and grey smear of dried milk and wheatbix on my black pant leg as I glanced down at my notes. (This has actually happened to me a few times).
Which was a fine time to tell a little personal story about getting ready that morning, introduce a joke about toddlers and pre-schoolers that all the working parents in the audience could relate to, and excuse myself for a five minute break.
(They are still a client.)