COLUMN: The power of public speaking

There are ways to alleviate anxiety and prepare yourself in advance of having to speak in public

Why does presenting a speech in public fill us with trepidation greater than the fear of heights, snakes and spiders? After all, there are times in everyone’s life that we are asked to speak in front of an audience.

It doesn’t seem to matter to the butterflies in our stomach how big or small the group is and being evaluated by a panel of judges is even more nerve wracking.

I imagine this was the case when I recently attended the Summerland Blossom Pageant public speaking event. The candidates were asked to prepare a two to three minute speech in regard to their sponsors.

There was a panel of three judges making notes and listening to every word they said. As each candidate was called up to the podium, a hush fell over the crowd.

We not only wanted to hear their speech, but also quietly hoped they sailed through it without any major stumbles.

We wanted them to succeed, and each candidate accomplished that. They did an amazing job, although I was asked afterwards “Could you see my knees shaking?”

There was certainly no sign of shaky knees, and even if they were nervous, it didn’t show.

That is not something that comes easily, and many people can experience crippling stage fright.

Author Dale Carnegie, who is famous for his books on public speaking and self improvement reminds of the old phrase “There is nothing to fear, but fear itself” in his book “Stand and Deliver: How to become a masterful communicator and public speaker.”

He writes that anxiety can be brought under control with just a little effort and information, and even if you draw a complete blank when you get behind the podium, it is unlikely that the audience will throw things or laugh out loud at you.

There are ways to alleviate that anxiety and prepare yourself well in advance of having to speak in public, but nothing seems to help more than practice.

Deciding the topic, preparing what you want to say, writing it all out and then practicing it over and over again at home until it is time to step up to the podium.

That is the time when the butterflies kick into overdrive and you not only have to remember your speech, but also must remember to breathe!

Breathing in through your nose slowly and then out again slowly, helps calm anxiety in a stressful situation.

There are many books in the library that can teach you exactly how to moderate your breathing while speaking. “Your Perfect Presentation” by Bill Hoogterp has a chapter on voice modulation in which he reminds us to make sure to pause while speaking.

It gives your audience a chance to digest what you just said and gives you a chance to calm down and breathe.

Out of all the books the library has on public speaking, one of my favourites is “TED talks: The Official TED Guide to public speaking” by Chris Anderson.

The purpose of this book is “to persuade you to think about public speaking in a way that you find exciting and empowering”.

I hope the Blossom candidates walked away from the podium that day feeling proud and empowered enough to want to continue speaking in public.

Caroline McKay is an Assistant Community Librarian at the Summerland Branch of the Okanagan Regional Library.