Public speaking phobia? Just do it!

Most people have a deep fear of public speaking and find it quite easy to protect themselves from it. Given this is the case, why and how does anyone ever get to do it? Someone with an interesting story to tell is Managing Director of Tunafish Media, Sam Jones. Sam has been speaking publicly from early in his career when he took up posts as a Radio DJ on leaving school.

In a way, Sam’s journey to becoming a speaker started without him really knowing it. And that might be an important part of how he took the step to speaking in in person in public.  Sam agreed to get involved with Pro Manchester and became the Chair of a sector group supporting young people to get into work. As it turned out, and he didn’t realise it at the time, Sam would need to deliver a speech to a room filled with 640 people as part of this commitment. He asked hopefully if they would accept a video. They politely declined this suggestion.

So, Sam had to face his fear. There was no escape. He had an 8-month lead time to get himself in shape as a speaker and to come across well and do a good job. Here’s what he did:

Asked some people for advice: they suggested he look at courses, Youtube videos. He also received some direct advice which was obvious but overlooked and it had a big impact: “The easiest way to do it is to just do it.” Sam thought he was being kidded. But this lead him to his next step:

Found a low risk place to practice: Where was there a place to experiment as a speaker without the pressure? There were three Universities within a mile of Sam’s business. He rang them and asked if they had opportunities to speak to their students. He got a spot as a Guest Lecturer and arranged 10-15 sessions over three months. This was a win all round. The universities were happy to have a business person speak. The students were happy with the variety and novelty of hearing from someone who was not a Lecturer. And for Sam there was no pressure, no money changing hands so he could try things out and learn from the experience. Which was his next step:

Learned from his early attempts: He recorded his first opportunity. He’d planned to do 30 minutes and it turned out that he was on and off the stage in 14 minutes. He paid attention to what happened, his pace, his breathing and his comfort. He focused on what happened and that told him what he needed to change. This kept him moving forward to his next step:

Extended his comfort zone: Sam’s next step was to book onto panels. He found local business magazines and associations that were keen to engage speakers. By being on a panel with others, he could see how they came across. It also meant there were 7 or 8 people all with something to add. It wasn’t all riding on him and he didn’t need to know everything, just to prepare his area of expertise. Sam was pushing and expanding his capability which is where he went next:

Pushed it further: Next, Sam was booked to do a keynote to a legal conference of 150 people for 20 minutes. The audience was in a different sector, an important part of his steady and gradual confidence build.

Sam has become a confident speaker. And his business is benefiting with the speaking opportunities generating conversations that are turning into projects.

What can other people take from Sam’s experience?

Distract yourself: Get around the fear by distraction: take a volunteer role somewhere, do something extra-curricular. Put yourself in a space where you might be a speaker but distract your conscious brain with something else.

High volume, over long period: Arrange as many speaking opportunities as you can manage but plan them in over a long period of time. The key is to be regular and consistent but not paralysing. Sam had 8 months to get in shape. He now has 20 engagements in his diary over the next three months.

Everything starts with something: Sam described his journey as follows. “You wouldn’t prepare for a sprint against Usain Bolt by running full pelt. You’d take a jog with the dog first and build up from there.”

That sounds like good advice. So, what does your plan look like?

Thanks to Sam Jones MD of Tunafish Media for sharing his experience.

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