FEAR OF SPEAKING

When I was asked to teach a course on Music Business International Marketing at the UCLA Extension, many years ago, I was flattered and unsure whether I could do it. Having been the recipient of many a boring lecture in my student days, I knew that being an entertaining teacher is not easy. I was confident I had the information required but I wasn’t positive I would be able to share it in a coherent and interesting manner.

What I mostly remember of that experience is how I would routinely get lost on the immense campus – despite the detailed maps I was sent, I always ended up parking in the wrong lot, lugging around piles of photocopies, books and cds for miles and arriving to class out of breath and without a minute to spare. Whether my lectures were any good, I can’t say but I can remember what gave me confidence and got me loosened up. It was the students, their eager expressions, the inquisitive questions who would keep me on my toes and motivated. After that experience, public speaking became suddenly easy or, at least, not as intimidating. Yet, I know of many people who would rather commit hara-kiri than speak even in front of an audience of five.

If acting classes cured me of my shyness or, rather, gave me the tools to pretend I wasn’t shy (I don’t believe shyness is a condition one ever gets over), learning to address a group of people in a business setting took some time. As I was speaking to a different kind of college class yesterday, I realized what works for me and I thought I would share it with some of my panic-stricken friends.

To draw an audience in, especially a young one, it helps to start by asking questions. It’s easier for me to talk with rather than talk to. It will immediately create a sense of intimacy and will make you focus on a few faces you can keep on going back to during the course of the talk. It’s the same advice performers of all kinds are given when they first start out in front of a large audience. Just concentrate on the people in the first row and act/sing/recite for them.

If you make a mistake, self-deprecation works wonders – point it out and make a joke. It will make you endearing.

It helps me to have a structure to the talk – a list of points to cover I can refer to but, unless you are skilled in the use of a teleprompter, reading off of a prepared speech sounds mechanical.

If the group is not too large, encouraging questions during the talk will give you a breather and an indication of what your audience is most interested in.

And if you really are one of those people who is just terrified at the thought of public speaking, my most comforting thought always veered towards “could it be as bad as getting a life-threatening disease/breaking a limb/having to sit through Sunday school/being sick in front of a coveted date?” There is nothing like putting everything in catastrophic perspective. I also found that, as I get older, I really don’t care that much anymore what people think of me or what I say. Turns out that being comfortable with my old batty self has its advantages.

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