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Lyman Hopper

By: Lyman Hopper (Guest Blogger)

You dash through the doors and out onto the sidewalk, gasping for air. You look out at the busy highway and think that attempting to cross it seems like an easier task. You look back at the doorway and feel queasy. What has come over you? You are suffering from “glossophobia” or speech anxiety and the fear of public speaking. And you are not alone as an estimated 75% of us suffer from it in one form or another.

Obtaining a Bachelor of Arts in Speech Communications, I have given many oratory presentations to classrooms full of students and to audiences in the hundreds, attending various meetings. Was I ever nervous? Only until the 8th grade when I got up in front of the class and acted out and lip-synched “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” … I haven’t been shy since.

Okay…so how can I help you? My first piece of advice is to make sure you speak on a topic you are knowledgeable about; something that interests you. Your enthusiasm and passion about the topic will be apparent to the audience. If they see you smiling and feel your passion, they will smile, uncross their arms and be receptive.

I believe that one of the causes of speech/presentation anxiety is we have a preconceived notion that we are being judged and graded. But the truth is that people attend meetings and seminars whether in the conference room or an auditorium are present to garner/gain information – and it’s our job to provide that information. Think of the word or acronym DRIP:  Data Rich Information Poor. We attend these presentations and are bombarded with statistics and Power Point presentations (I will discuss the use of Power Point in a bit) and we come away with a multitude of stats, but what was the information we were supposed to absorb? What did we learn from the stats? Create a message and make sure you deliver that message – after all, that’s why you’re there.

Tell a story. A factual story is best but you can utilize fiction if it helps convey the message. Be careful, though, not to make the story too fictional – the audience may not believe it to be true. Case in point: I entered a Forensics competition being held at Princeton University, (Okay…in reality, my speech professor entered me…informing me of my obligation a week before the event, but I was there nonetheless). My mission was to look up the word Forensics in order to find out that it meant more than just coroners and morgues.

I read a descriptive narrative I’d written, inserting myself as a character – a sprinter at a track meet. My story detailed events of the day, including the moment when the starter’s pistol went off; only instead of a starter’s pistol, the shot came courtesy of a sniper’s gun, and I had been shot in the leg. I proceeded to describe all the feelings involved with such a terrible, chaotic event and after the speech, students from the other schools came up to me, asking if I was able to continue my track career and asking why I didn’t walk with a limp. When I confessed that it was fictional, I thought I was going to be lynched; my passion in telling the story affected some very emotionally.

Plan a visit.  There are other things you can do to achieve a comfort level. Visit the room ahead of time, if possible. Whether it is the conference room at your office or a large meeting room at a hotel go stand in the spot where you will be speaking. Get comfortable with the surroundings and then do your best to visualize people around the table or visualize all of the seats filled. This will minimize the anxiety instead of just walking out to the podium/lectern and seeing the room and audience moments before your presentation.

Do what’s comfortable.  I like to be able to walk around while speaking. But if the meeting doesn’t have much walking area or it is more of a panel discussion and I’m sitting at a table – ugh, not my favorite approach – then I have to visualize my presentation being done that way. If you’re eager to see what I’d look like with a hernia, put me in front of a podium and make me keep my hands on it the whole time. One speech professor made me do that my senior year and it was excruciating – I almost lifted it up just to be able to walk around! That’s my preference, though, and you may feel more comfortable behind the lectern as a de-facto shield, protecting you from the audience.

Practice in front of a mirror. (Yes, without cracking yourself up or stopping and wondering where that wrinkle came from.) Focus on your facial expressions, and if you’re frowning or appear disinterested, your audience will feel the same way. If you’re smiling and enthusiastic, then your audience will become your friend. If friends and/or co-workers will be in attendance, have some sit towards the front, some in the middle, and some towards the back. Before you begin to speak, spot them so that you have reference points for making eye contact if you stumble or lose focus for a moment. Those folks will also provide additional reassurance that your presentation is going well.

Ask your audience questions in advance. If you know an individual or co-workers that are going to be in attendance, ask them what they hope to learn or what insight they would like to gain by attending to your presentation. This goes back to DRIP, which I mentioned earlier. If your audience gains the information they are seeking, it warms them up to the speaker. You’ll sense that, immediately reducing your anxiety. The sooner I recognize that I’m speaking to friendly, warm people, the better. That’s not to say that they’re actually friendly and warm. I hope they are, but this is more about how you feel and about reducing the anxiety.

Meet your audience.  If you are presenting to a larger audience, stand outside where attendance is being taken, or near the meeting room entry door.  Introduce yourself as the speaker and ask some why they are attending and what they hope to take away from the presentation. If you are in control of the format, allow for questions to be asked in order to involve the audience in your presentation.

As I’ve already mentioned, know your topic or speak on a topic you’re comfortable with. I don’t recommend writing a speech you plan to give word-for-word.  One time – just one presentation – I wrote and read the entire speech off of large typed sheets of paper and I came off as a monotone robot. I thought I’d nailed it, but when I looked up I realized I’d created a room full of blank stares. I’d only made eye contact with the audience once before I began and at the end when I was waiting for my standing ovation. I got the ovation, all right, but only for leaving the stage!  You’re better to utilize index cards for reference points, but make sure you number them because I’ve seen speakers drop them or lose their way. That’s when speakers go from confident to Glossophobic in seconds.

Use Power Point as a tool.  I’d mentioned Power Point presentations earlier, so let’s spend some time there. Power Point is a great tool, one that can ease the anxiety of public speaking. But that’s only true if you make it your friend or wingman, and not a crutch. What’s the difference? I have attended many seminars where the speaker just turns his/her back to the audience and reads verbatim every word that is on the screen. I don’t know about you but I am already reading what is on the screen and considering its relevance to the topic. I don’t need someone to read to me. Tell me why it’s important … tell me why it’s included.

Power Point, in my opinion, is great for sharing data and statistics that you as the presenter back up with information. Power Point can also be used to help handle the anxiety associated with speaking to the group, since you can insert a humorous slide or slides periodically as a way of relaxing your audience with a laugh or smile.

Find a way to relax and slay your phobia.  You may have heard and read about other recommendations for conquering Glossophobia, like imagining your audience in their underwear or looking just above people’s eyes and at their foreheads or perhaps dimming the lights in the auditorium, so you can’t see the audience. Some of those may work for you, but they are not likely good for the audience. Consider that when you’re searching for ways to relax.

I have friends that have taken a night school course at local high schools or community colleges to confront this phobia. Others have joined a local chapter of Toastmasters. Just remember, you are not alone; more than 7 of 10 people in the audience listening to you have the same anxiety. It’s human to feel the way you do before a presentation. I hope, though, that what I’ve shared will work for you. Please let me know if it does. I will be with you in spirit, smiling and cheering you on!

Lyman Hopper is Senior Account Executive, Nationwide Corporate Services, for Signature Information Solutions and Charles Jones. He started his career with Charles Jones servicing title companies in New Jersey before taking on the responsibility of spreading the word of various corporate services and products available not only to the New Jersey tri-state area but also nationwide. Lyman is very involved with several Paralegal Associations in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and is connecting with Paralegals across the country through the use of social media. Lyman can be reached at 609-218-4037 or email at lhopper@signatureinfo.com. For more information about the company and services it provides, visit http://www.signatureinfo.com and www.superiorregisteredagents.com.

Lyman certainly has some fantastic tips on how to slay your speaking phobia, doesn’t he, TPS readers? A special thanks to Lyman for sharing this terrific article with all of us at The Paralegal Society! See…we feature articles by non-paralegals too!  If you’d like to add a tip or share a thought, go hit that comment button!  

We have some great articles planned for later this week, so be sure to swing back by! We’ll be sure to save you a front row seat!