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Overcoming Your Fear of Public Speaking

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Anxiety, stress and fear are common responses to public speaking. Many people consider public speaking among their worst fears in life. For some, college is the first real test of these fears and emotions.

You will probably be required to speak publicly as part of a class assignment or social event during your college career. How you handle this opportunity is entirely up to you. You can choose to avoid classes and situations that require an oral presentation. The short term consequences of doing so will result in lower grades and diminished leadership skills. The long term consequences are increased fear and stress. Choosing to avoid public speaking feeds the anxiety. Overcoming this fear can have a tremendous affect on your career potential or social status. Face this challenge head on. Gather up the courage to break out of your comfort zone. Public speaking becomes easier the more you do it.

When confronted with public speaking, you need to first know the purpose of your speech. Is it to inform? to persuade? to entertain? Once you know the general purpose of your speech, you can begin to prepare.

A great speech starts with a great topic. In some situations your topic will be chosen for you. If you are able to choose your topic, it is important that you select a topic that interests you and will interest your audience. You can draw topics from personal interests or from the media. Once you have a list of potential topics you will want to ask yourself some questions about each topic in order to find the best one:

  • Am I interested in the topic?
  • Will I enjoy researching this topic?
  • Will I enjoy talking about this topic and sharing information with my audience?
  • Will my audience be interested in my topic?
  • Am I passionate about this topic?

If you can answer yes to all of the questions, then you have probably selected a good topic.

After selecting your topic, you need to come up with a specific purpose statement. The specific purpose statement is a definitive sentence that states the focus of your speech. It is part of the creation process of the speech, not part of the delivery. The purpose states the general function of the speech: to inform, persuade, or entertain. The statement narrows down the topic. An example of a specific purpose statement is: To inform my audience of three major warning signs of clinical depression. If you find yourself with too much information, revise the specific purpose statement so the focus is even more narrow. Remember it is much easier to add information than to delete it.

When you have your specific purpose statement you are ready to compose your Thesis Statement or Central Idea. This is probably the most important part of your speech. This is one sentence that covers the central idea of your speech. The thesis is always in the introduction and it usually transitions into the body of the speech. The thesis is the focus. The thesis needs to be a definitive statement – don’t make your audience guess the focus. An example of a thesis statement is: “There are warning signs of clinical depression; today I will discuss three of the major ones.”

Your next step is to compose the main points of your speech. Main points are complete sentences that create a dialogue with your audience. Use your main points to create questions in the mind of your audience. You will answer these questions when you support your main points. You make a claim in your main points and you support your claim in your sub-points.

Next, do some research. Make sure to evaluate your sources – information found on someone’s blog carries less weight than information from a library database. Supporting what you are saying with facts lends credibility to what you are saying. A few things to look for when you are doing your research include:

  • Statistics – Americans like numbers. We believe empirical data.
  • Personal examples – Personal examples accomplish two things: they support your point and give you a connection with the audience. You can use the personal experiences of other people.
  • Quotations – You can use quotations from people who are experts. This supports your point and gives you secondary credibility.
  • Traditional research – Check reputable online sources, books, journals, and library databases. Make sure you cite your research. This helps prove your point and also gives you secondary credibility.

Supporting materials serve a variety of functions in oral presentations: to clarify the speaker’s point, to emphasize a point, to make the point more interesting, and to furnish a basis that enables others to believe your point. Without supporting materials, an oral presentation is little more than a string of assertions. When choosing supporting materials, the following guidelines may be helpful:

  • Pertinence – Each piece of support should be clearly relevant to the point it is used to support.
  • Variety – Your presentation should not rely excessively on one type of support. Use a number of different forms of support.
  • Amount – The presentation should include a sufficient amount of support. Include enough to make the ideas presented both clear and compelling to the audience.
  • Detail – Each piece of support needs to be developed to the point that audience members can both understand it and can see how the item backs up the point it is used to support.

After gathering your supporting research, consider your audience as you develop and shape your topic. Consider the following questions when adapting your topics and messages to a particular audience:

  • What do you and your audience have in common?
  • How are you and your audience different?
  • What ideas or examples in your speech might your audience identify with?
  • How can your topic or the information benefit your audience?
  • How can your audience use the information?
  • How will the information help your audience?
  • What is your audience’s amount of interest in or attitude toward your topic?
  • How will you address or compensate for your audience’s amount of interest in or attitude toward your topic?
  • What does your audience know about your topic?
  • What might they want to know or need to know about your topic?

After gathering all of your information and considering your audience, it is time to outline your speech. Create a basic outline of your key points, sub-points, and the support of your topic. Do not write down everything you want to say. Having an outline of important ideas will make your presentation sound more conversational. This may make your audience more interested in what you have to say. Use your outline as an aid. Do not read from it.

A few general dos and don’ts will help with the actual delivery of your speech. These dos and don’ts include:

  • Go to the location of your presentation to get a feel for the environment and set-up.
  • Practice. Do this in front of a mirror or in front a friend. Practice without stopping, just as you will want to give your presentation on speech day.
  • Practice using any visual aids so you know how much time they will take up and how to incorporate them into your speech.
  • Practice with background noise (TV, radio, etc.) in order to practice with distractions.
  • Time yourself. — Make sure that you are consistently within your time restrictions.
  • Video tape yourself if possible. This is the best way for you to be able to see what your mistakes are so that you can fix them before you give your presentation.
  • Eliminate any distracting mannerisms you may have. Distracting mannerisms include (but are not limited to) playing with a ring or necklace, tucking hair behind your ear, playing with a pen, cracking knuckles, etc. These are actions you can easily avoid doing if you are aware of them.
  • Never have change or keys in your pockets. You do not want to have the sound of objects competing with your voice.
  • Dress appropriately any time you give a presentation. It contributes to a credible first impression.
  • Do not stand with your arms crossed or your hands in your pockets. This posture prevents you from gesturing and may make your audience uncomfortable.
  • If you make a mistake while giving a speech, correct the mistake and move on. You never want to draw attention to an error.
  • Don’t present visual aids until they are needed. Introduce them as you are speaking. Don’t keep visual aids up after you are no longer referring to them.
  • Don’t practice your speech while holding on to your outline. Put your outline on something – anything to simulate the lectern that you will be presenting with.

Many colleges require public speaking as part of their general education requirements. College programs across the nation are trying to ease the burden of required public speaking. This push is due to the realization that some students were not graduating because their fears of speaking prevented them from passing a required communication class. Many speech classes now focus on forms of communication that will be a relevant part of life, like wedding toasts or eulogies.


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Azhar about 7 years ago Azhar


Hey very nice post! keep blogging