Use Awareness To Improve Public Speaking

I learned something insightful about public speaking last week. I was reading a book called, Speaking Up Without Freaking Out by Matt Abrahams on my morning commute. There’s 50 tips in there for public speaking. Abrahams states that not every tip works for everyone; you need to test them and figure out which couple tips work for you. Here’s an tip about anxiety awareness that worked really well for me.

There are three ways speaking anxiety creeps in:
  • Situational-Based Anxiety: this might mean the room your are speaking in, the number of people you are speaking in front of, the type of speaking you are doing. The anxiety is based on the environment.
  • Audience-Based Anxiety: relies on who you are speaking in front of. Maybe it is family, friends, co-workers, or superiors. Sometimes anxiety only comes about in front of a certain audience.
  • Goal-Based Anxiety: anxiety creeps in based on what you are trying to accomplish. You might be asking a boss for a raise in this case. In my case, I have a goal to be a really effective communicator.
Tip: Once you learn the three types, Abrahams asks you to write about a recent speaking experience. From there, you can learn about which one you struggle with. Below was my answer.

For me, the two most common are situation and goal based.

When I am called upon to speak and am unprepared, I get super anxious. This experience is very situational. Toastmasters Table Topics where I am asked to speak about a topic on the spot for two minutes makes me crazy anxious. To the point where I can’t feel anything leading up to speaking. I begin to hyper-focus on what to say and how to make it perfect. As a result, I sit back down after speaking, wishing I said something else. This is a terrifying feeling, and it really is always tied to being called upon to speak when I am not prepared to speak. When I can prepare or have a PowerPoint I feel much smoother and less anxious.

Next up is goal based anxiety.

I want to become an above average speaker. When I get anxious for prepared speeches, it is because I want to do really well. I want to reach my goal of speech mastery. This was not a speaking event, but take a recent wedding I went to. I participated in the rehearsal dinner and attended the wedding, so I listened to a fair share of speeches throughout the weekend. This is slightly selfish I know, but what do you think was on my mind? What I would say during a wedding speech. I got nervous about what I would say, how I would say it, and how I would also be a little funny. WTF!? But the thoughts and feelings came and went a few times throughout the weekend. I see this as goal-based anxiety. I want to be a good clear speaker with charisma, intelligence, and thoughtfulness.  All good things. But sometimes I hyper-focus on the goal and not on the journey to getting there, stalling me slightly in development.

Give this a try yourself. Reflect on your last couple speaking experiences to try and point out where the anxiety is coming from.