New Castle News

March 23, 2013

Josh Drespling: Afraid to speak in public? Really, it will be OK

Josh Drespling
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — I'm imagining you all naked right now.

Did you know that a majority of the American population fear public speaking more than death itself? Yes, they would rather be in the coffin than give the eulogy.

I don’t have any love for speaking to large groups of people in a formal setting, nor do I like speaking to a small group, or even with a single person when it's important. To go to a boss or co-worker and inquire about any particular subject takes some working up to and preparation.

In these situations, I typically get flustered and nervous, then I get off track and end up recoiling with a one-liner or some type of joke. I can feel my face getting flushed, and the top of my head starts to sweat. Then I stumble over a word, and I feel like my point is slowly crumbling. Guh!

That is exactly why I hate answering the phone. On the other end of the line inevitably lies something that I am unprepared for. Some scenario that I may not have a full and complete answer for is waiting for me on the other side.  Though I don’t quite understand that irrational fear, I do know enough to accept the fact that it exists.

My wife has asked, “How can you be nervous when you used to play in a band in front of hundreds of people?”

Well, she's right. I did “perform” in front of hundreds of people, but it was an incredibly rehearsed performance. We had gone through those songs literally hundreds of times. In the writing and recording process alone we had lived through the evolution and growth of those songs. I had participated in the development of the sound and feel of those songs so closely that even today I can recite nearly every lyric and tell you exactly what setting our equipment was at certain points.

I was so engrossed in the material that it was nearly second nature to perform those songs. I knew the material in and out, and in the few rare occurrences that we ran into technical difficulties, it was a simple lateral shift that kept us afloat in front of a mass of fans. It didn’t hurt to be flanked by two guys who were just as well-versed with the songs we were performing, but the message is the same. Know the material that you are presenting and know it well.

I share all that to say this: public speaking is nothing more than selling your words. You are crafting a sales pitch to your audience. You have to know your product and/or topic inside and out. To do any less would do yourself an injustice. You need to find the passion in your subject. There is nothing worse than a monotone, dispassionate speaker who is merely going through the motions.

I treat it much like a face-to-face conversation, thus all the same rules apply. Make eye contact with your audience, don't fidget with your notes or papers, and speak clearly and strongly. Also feel free to make gestures and motions with your hands, and most important, keep the umms and uhhhs to a bare minimum.

Back in high school I did a speech in an Oral English class. We were required to do a persuasive speech that was the minimum of fives minutes on any subject. I chose to do it on the effects of the PMRC on the music industry and their attempts to restrict artistic expression. I gave a passionate speech that extended well past the five-minute mark.

I had all my facts, figures and opinions outlined. I expressed them fervently and thoroughly. After closing, the teacher rose from the back of the room and said, “Great work. That was an amazing speech, even though I do not agree with a single word you said.”

Just goes to show that your delivery and presentation make all the difference in the world. I'm not saying I was not nervous. Frankly, I was shaking in my boots (or high tops as it was the late ’80s). I had never had to do something like that, but I went at it with gusto and passion, and the outcome was great because I got an A in the class.

It all comes down to this — what is the worst that could happen? A moment of public embarrassment or some jittery mistakes. But once all is said and done, I promise you will immediately feel better and more accomplished.  You may be surprised to find out that under your nervousness there lies a natural leader who shines brightest under pressure. Plus, you will know what kind of underwear everybody wears.