The fear of public speaking is a fear worth confronting and overcoming because speaking opportunities are business, career and leadership opportunities. My clients’ stories confirm this. I often hear, I’m tired of seeing coworkers who are less qualified than me and don’t contribute as much to the company getting promotions, bonuses and leadership opportunities that I don’t receive. One of the reasons is they are giving presentations, even if the presentations are not that good!
Last month’s column talked about why so many people dread giving a presentation. It gave a number of reasons, most that can be overcome fairly easily. We also started discussing the ‘What Ifs,’ including the biggest one of all: What if I have nothing to talk about?
My response always is: Each of you have experiences and knowledge people would love to hear and could benefit from. How did I come to that realization? One day, a good friend emailed a question to me. Though I can’t remember the question, I knew the answer. I typed it into the email and hit the ‘reply’ button. Almost immediately, I got a one word response: Wow!
What’s wow?, I replied, hitting the ‘send’ button. About 10 minutes later, I received his response, and it’s relevant to this conversation: Sometimes, you’re so close to your own knowledge base, that’s so wide and so deep, you don’t know what you know!
Now, think about that statement, You don’t know what you know! Your every day could be somebody’s payday! Your every day could be someone’s a-ha moment. Everyone has a topic to speak about that others will benefit from.
Let me tell you a story: I teach a two-hour public speaking class two nights a week. The first night, I give an overview of presentation skills. Students then give mini-presentations on the second night. Last year, I had a class of inner-city church women, and it was their night to give their presentations. They were tremendous! I was really impressed.
One person waited until everyone else had spoken. She stood up, started walking to the front of the room, then stopped and said, “I’ve got nothing to talk about.” She started to sit down.
“Wait a minute!” I said. “Before we started class, didn’t I hear you telling some classmates you speak to your kids every day? What do you tell them?”
“I tell them to keep away from gangs, don’t do drugs, and work hard,” she replied.
“That’s good stuff!” I said. “How many children do you have?”
She said six, to which I replied, “Wow, big family! What are those kids doing now?”
After a pause, she answered, “Well, four are in college. . .”
“Stop right there! Four of your children are in college?” I asked. "I’ll bet there are children in your neighborhood who don’t even make it to high school. You have four kids in college, and you told this class you don’t have anything to talk about? We’ve got to hear how you did that!”
The entire class responded the way I did. This story is not unique. It happens all the time with coaching clients.
One of the best ways to find ‘what to talk about’ is to work with at least one other person. When working with clients, I listen and ask questions so they hear themselves. You can do the same when working with others to discover what to talk about.
Ask questions like: What did you learn from that? What happened next? What will you do differently the next time that happens? Why would anyone want to hear that story?
From now on, there should be no more ‘nothing to talk about.’ In next month’s column, we’ll start looking at ‘Nuggets to Lessen the Fear of Public Speaking.’