Surviving the White, Hot Spotlight of Public Speaking

Once you know the secret, it’s no sweat.

Buffy Naylor, Senior Managing Editor

December 8, 2015

3 Min Read
Surviving the White, Hot Spotlight of Public Speaking

Buffy NaylorAccording to most studies, people’s No. 1 fear is public speaking. No. 2 is death. Death is No. 2. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.
—Jerry Seinfeld

You’ve done sales presentations and perhaps participated in a panel discussion or roundtable. Still, if you’re like most people, the thought of public speaking fills you with dread.

There are countless articles, videos and how-to books on overcoming the fear of public speaking. But before you delve into any of that material, try this simple exercise: Imagine you have to walk onto a stage and give your name. Totally doable, right? Now imagine you have to walk onto a stage and give the names of five people you met earlier in the day. That catapulted you right out of your comfort zone, didn’t it? And the only thing that changed was your familiarity with what you were going to say.  

And that is the secret to public speaking: If you’re comfortable with what you’re going to say, you’ll be comfortable saying it, no matter how many people are listening. You won’t have to imagine them sitting there in their underwear or focus on a point slightly above their heads so that it appears you’re making eye contact.

Just as the first step to overcoming stage fright is to learn your lines, so the first step to conquering any trepidations you may have about public speaking is to learn your material. But hold this thought: Unlike learning your lines for a play, learning your material for a speech is not about memorization.

Whether you wrote the speech totally on your own or had help in its creation, make sure you know its purpose and the major points you must make on the way to your conclusion. It’s a good idea to have those points in outline form so you can refer to them if necessary, but avoid working from a full-text version of the speech, where you could easily lose your place.

This brings us back to that thought about memorization that you were holding for later: If you’re going to memorize your speech, you might as well just get up there and read it. Either way, you’ll come off as wooden and uninspired. The more familiar you are with your speech, the more spontaneous you can be, but there are limits — know the concepts, not word-for-word copy.  

As you practice your speech, try to approach it was you would a great anecdote. Cover all the important talking points, but don’t worry about the exact wording. No great story is told precisely the same way twice.

And once you have covered all the important points, conclude. If you have been given a time allotment for your speech, remember that it’s a limit, not a goal. The best conclusion is a summary in which you review and reinforce what you said in your speech. Review only once and keep it brief — don’t restate your review, don’t try to expand on any point already covered and don’t introduce any new material.

With proper preparation, you should be able to see public speaking in a whole new spotlight.

**Editor’s Note: There will be plenty of great speakers at the Channel Partners Conference & Expo, March 16-18, 2016, in Las Vegas. Learn more here.**

Follow managing editor Buffy Naylor on Twitter.

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About the Author(s)

Buffy Naylor

Senior Managing Editor, Channel Futures

Buffy Naylor is senior managing editor of Channel Futures. Prior to joining Informa (then VIRGO) in 2008, she was an award-winning copywriter and editor, then senior manager of corporate communications for an international leisure travel corporation and, before that, in charge of creative development and copywriting for a boutique marketing and public relations agency.

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