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24 January 2024  •  Katrina Shute, Principal of Training and Capability

2024 is the year

public speaking

Make 2024 the year you expand your comfort zone and EMBRACE public speaking – Bastion Reputation’s Katrina Shute reveals one insider technique to help make it possible.

Spiders? Confined spaces? Heights? Death? All common fears many of us hold. But what’s the one thing that trumps all of these often paralysing phobias? Public speaking (and snakes, but for the purpose of this article let’s focus on the public speaking).

That’s right, according to a Gallup News Service poll, the fear of public speaking is worse than the fear of death. 

The big question is why. How can standing up in front of other people and simply talking, evoke more terror than one’s own untimely demise?  

One theory is evolution. Historically, when humans were threatened by large predators, staying with the group was a basic survival skill and any separation or rejection could result in much unpleasantness. That fear has stuck, meaning we find “comfort” being embedded with the crowd, and experience anxiety when forced to stand out.

But as someone in the modern era once said, your “comfort” zone is where dreams go to die, and to thrive at work, and in life, we are often required to give presentations, speeches, make announcements or give interviews. It’s preferable this doesn’t result in an incoming panic attack.

As a former news reporter, anchor and now media trainer, it’s my experience that even very senior professionals will rarely say they enjoy public speaking. Most admit they endure it, avoid it if possible or just try to “get it over with” when the need arises. The ones who are naturally good at it, or who have trained to excel in audience engagement, will always be more likely to achieve success in the workplace and win leadership roles.

The awesome news is that even if you’re not blessed with the ability to speak confidently in front of a crowd, you can learn to. The first and most important technique to assist is changing your mindset. How? Switch up your internal chatter.

When faced with giving a presentation, try dropping the usual self-talk sabotage of…

“Oh I’m seriously dreading this”

“I’m so terrible at this” 

“How can I get out of doing this” 

and exchange it with… 

“I’m really looking forward to this” 

“I’m going to enjoy this” 

“I would love to do more of this”

Simply replace the old, confidence-sapping, negative mindset with a positive, self-esteem-boosting version. This helpful self-talk may feel strange to begin with but as someone else once said, it only feels weird the first time. Adopting these mantras will transform your entire public speaking process. 

Firstly, it will energise your preparation. Instead of the classic, let’s delay and hope it all goes away, this mindset change will subconsciously encourage you to start prepping. You’ll begin to view the process with excitement rather than dread. We all know it’s more fun to work on something we’re looking forward to.

In addition, it will improve one of the most important elements of public speaking…body language. Your posture tells the audience a great deal before you even open your mouth. If your internal chatter is telling you this is a truly horrific experience akin to death…expect tense, defensive body language. An exciting and rewarding opportunity? Expect assured, open, welcome engagement.

Finally, the right affirmations will encourage you to sound more like a leader. Instead of mumbling through a speech with a quivering voice as you speed to the finish line, you’ll be happy to take your time, speaking with clarity, influence and enthusiasm. It may surprise you to find you’re actually enjoying it, perhaps even disappointed when it’s all over. That’s the goal.

There are a host of techniques we use in media and presentation training to calm anxiety and boost confidence, but if you can alter just one lifelong bad habit for the new year, then make it this one. Changing our mindset on how we view public speaking will vastly improve personal capability in the workplace. More importantly, it can encourage a pro public speaking environment amongst colleagues. 

When coworkers see how easily you’re handling presentations with this new, fearless self-motivation, they’ll be more likely to expand their own comfort zones to reap the benefits. Then the whole team wins in 2024.

Katrina Shute is a former journalist and Network Ten Newsreader, now Principal of Training and Capability at Bastion Reputation. Contact her at katrinas@bastionreputation.com.au for more information.

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