The Other “Fear of Public Speaking”

In part one of this series, I addressed THREE main fears that your audience have of you, the speaker. Fears they have before they decide to attend your talk, just before you start your talk, and just after you start it.

In part two, I will discuss three more issues you need to be aware of and resolve in order to ensure your speaking program is something your audience wants, and loves, to attend again.

  1. Fear of interaction

Although people like workshops or seminars with lots of speaker-audience interaction, a substantial portion of them appreciate and prefer “safe interaction”.

I’ve been there, and done that, I admit. In many seminars and workshops I have witnessed incidents which threatened attendees’ sense of comfort and emotional security. Jumping down from the stage, targeting a particular attendee, picking a volunteer without permission, interrogating her with questions she cannot answer clearly, or even honestly, and even going as far as ridiculing attendees’ responses or reactions to the degree the whole audience bursts into laughter, at the expense of the person’s dignity, privacy and respect!

It comes with no surprise that a vast portion of audiences will feel too vulnerable to attend programs they fear will intimidate them. And if they do attend, you can see them piling up in the back of the room, staying as far as possible from the speaker’s shooting range.

Here’s what you should make sure you do in advance and avoid:

  • Investigate your audience thoroughly before the program to detect the level of openness this particular audience has.
  • Don’t start with heavy-duty interaction so early. Even if you have a highly amicable audience, some warm-up techniques are essential to set the tone and temperature for your later launches. This will give you an extra hint on which attendees look more excited, so that you can depend on them for the more intense interaction.
  • Be gradual in introducing your interactive shots; beginning from easy to complex, collective to individual and non-physical to physical – not the other way around.
  • Depending on the type of interaction and the attendee you are targeting, consider asking the attendee’s permission before you go ahead with the activity.
  • And even just before that, you can shortlist those willing to participate in this activity by a show-of-hands permission: “raise your hand if you want to know how good of a listener you are!” then proceed and pick one of volunteers.
  • And finally, always be careful with the physical interaction: how close you get, the actual touches, and not to mention the safety of the person, due to an act you ask him or her to perform.
  1. Too weak for another peak

Some people prefer to skip an important presentation or speech, than to face another pinnacle that looks just too high to reach. Many speaking events, business conferences included, revolve around impressing the audience with the achievement we made or the superhero I am.

Some speakers just ignore the fundamental goal of public speaking: change. Our prime mission – as speakers – is to create the change in our audiences towards better conditions and status. Whether it is change in knowledge, feelings, attitudes, actions or life, our duty is to make a difference. And we cannot do that if we present ourselves or our ideas as once-in-a-lifetime miraculously made feats.

But wait; in order to create the change, you do have to offer a higher challenge that the audience will look to and be motivated to stretch towards. The question therefore is: How do you inspire your audience to take the step towards the change you want without making it too high to reach nor too low to aim at?

Here are a few tips:

  • Give a little history about where and who you were before becoming the star you are or the success your idea is, so that your listeners realize they are no different than you, at least at the starting point.
  • Take the audience in an emotional journey through the challenges and difficulties you encountered until you accomplished your goals. This will appeal to the shared human thoughts and feelings you both have in common.
  • Again, study your audience well. If it’s a company, trace their current success stories and bring them as living examples of how competent and ready they are to seek the next peak.
  • Enrich your talk with real examples and stories from human history, especially modern history, so that they are more moved and inspired to take action.
  1. Same old stuff

Some people are afraid to sacrifice their time and money to attend a program that promises a lot, but delivers little or no groundbreaking value. The hi-tech life we’re living offers jaw-dropping information and knowledge at our fingertips every second. In order to convince your audience to lift their eyes from, or push aside, their smartphones for an hour or two, you need to deliver more than dated information or impractical models, at least for the time they live in, or the time they will use your information and ideas in.

I know that you want to simplify your topic so that it is digestible and doable for the average attendee. But you cannot neglect the eyeballs that are looking for something new to spark the high potentials and aptitudes hiding behind those eyeballs.

Here’s what you need to do:

  • Stay up-to-date with the subject matter you are speaking about and give doses of current information, statistics etc.
  • Mold each main point you deliver into what I call “The Learning Elevator”. Take the audience to the first floor, then to a higher floor, then to the highest. For example, if you are talking about customer service, get the audience to agree on the basic level of service, and then persuade them that a higher level is possible and preferred, and finally challenge them to reach the top floor. This way, you will have included all attendees in a basic minimum understanding, but also have not ignored those who aim for higher horizons and look for new ideas.
  • Make it a habit to always present your ideas and topics in a variety of methods and depths. You will then be more successful in covering the different learning styles that different attendees have and prefer.

Audiences too have their fears when it comes to speaking programs. Recognize and remedy those fears in each and every speaking event you are delivering, and you, and your audience, will both enjoy an unrivalled event.

Mohamed Ali Shukri is an International award-winning speaker, professional trainer and consultant. He has over 25 years of experience as a public speaker. Mohamed is the first Arab to reach to the World Championship of Public Speaking finals in August 2006 in Washington DC, where he was crowned as one of the “Top Ten Speakers in the World”. Mohamed has helped many individuals and groups find their true voices and teach them how to effectively and sincerely transfer their ideas and experiences to their audiences.

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