To Speak Fearlessly, Take Yourself Out of the Equation

Gary Genard, PhD, is an actor, communications professor, and speech coach, as well as author of Fearless Speaking: Beat Your Anxiety. Build Your Confidence. Change Your Life..  Gary helps people from all walks of life cope with speech anxiety and stage fright.

We all want to speak fearlessly and with impact.  Influential public speaking is as important today as it’s ever been, despite the digital age.  Personal appearances matter.  Give a great speech and you might just change the world.

So you should try to be excellent, right?

Actually, you should try to be yourself.  There’s a reason you’re the one giving the presentation, usually because of your knowledge and experience.

So how do you get off the merry-go-round of self-regard and forget yourself while embodying your vital message? Here are three ways to do so.


Perform an Audience Analysis

Leaders’ egos sometimes set them up for failure as speakers.  That’s especially true if they think, “I know this stuff, so I’ll just get up there and talk about it.”

That’s a speech guaranteed to be shapeless and not very engaging.  Speeches are strategic activities, after all, and need to be thought out and constructed with care.  Your best guide for doing that successfully is an audience analysis.

Ask yourself these questions: What do I need to tell my listeners that they don’t already know? How do they prefer to receive information?  Is there an emotional climate here that I should know about?  What will their objections be to my argument?  And what action do I want them to take?  Put yourself in the world of your listeners, and it will be far easier to reach and move them.



Prepare Less, Practice More

Let’s face it: Most of us are content junkies when it comes to speeches and presentations.  We’re convinced that if we load enough information into the laps of our listeners, they’ll respond the way we want them to.

This type of thinking ignores reality!  If our content could live on its own, we wouldn’t even need to be present—we could just send the information along and say, “Read this. You’ll have all the data you need.”  The truth is, however, audiences need us, as speakers, to put it all into context and, most important, to tell them why it matters to them.

So instead of gathering more and more content like a dung beetle, practice how you’re going to engage your listeners and establish rapport.  You’ll be the speaker who knows how to perform a speech.  That’s the one they’ll listen to.



Try Your Best to Disappear

Leaders who worry too much about how good they are as speakers—whether from self-regard or because of anxiety—are making it virtually impossible for themselves to succeed.  The reason is simple: If you’re paying more attention to yourself than your audience, how can you tell if you’re reaching them?

You speak in public for one reason only: to give listeners something that will make their lives better.  How can that happen if you’re worrying about how well you’re doing?  Instead, become the message, using all of your tools of persuasion and passion to accomplish the challenging task of positively influencing other human beings.

There’s a story—maybe mythical—about the great actor Laurence Olivier playing Othello at the National Theatre in Great Britain. Praised for his opening night performance, he replied, “But I don’t know what I did. I can’t do it again tomorrow night!”  Actually, of course, he was a cinch to give a great performance the second night, and the third.  He had disappeared into the role—and every instant of his performance was true to the message of the play at that moment.

So take your cue from this great actor. Disappear into your own message, in the service of the people you’re there to lead.



Fearless Speaking: Beat Your Anxiety. Build Your Confidence. Change Your Life.


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