Quiz time! Can you guess the No. 1 fear for most people? No, it’s not being caught reading this column. It’s being asked to speak in public.
The fear of public speaking — or Glossophobia, as its known to its friends — is ranked higher and scarier by many people than Necrophobia (the fear of death) or Achluophobia (the fear of darkness) or Kimophobia (the fear of being stuck in an elevator with Kim Kardashian).
If you’re not afraid of triggering some brand new fears and phobias, you can find these findings at http://www.speech-topics-help.com/fear-of-public-speaking-statistics.html. Suffice it to say, the statistics show that three out of four people report suffering from speech anxiety. Considering that a reputation as a good or an awful speaker can affect your career, it’s important that you master the art of elocution.
You could take a lesson from the famous Greek orator, Demosthenes, and practice speaking with stones in your mouth. It’s a highly effective technique, especially if you replace the stones with jelly donuts.
Alternately, I’ve found a new resource to help you “become a masterful communicator and public speaker.” I’m talking about your fearless friends at Dale Carnegie Training. This year, the Carnegie kids have published a new book called “Stand and Deliver,” which will guide you through the process of developing and delivering the career-boosting speechifying you need.
The first step to finding your voice is to fully understand your material. “Know what you’re talking about,” is the way the Carnegie crowd puts it. “Don’t just have some expertise in your topic — master it.”
In other words, before you start talking, you might want to know what you’re talking about.
To me, this seems very unfair, since 99 percent of the twaddle we get from management is clearly generated by people who have no idea what they’re saying. What’s more frustrating is that even if you are an expert, you’re not supposed to show off the fact. “Mr. Carnegie actually believed that speakers should know 40 times more about their topic than they share in a presentation.”
This sets the bar high, so I suggest that if you don’t know all that much about your subject, you can accomplish the same effect by taking the little you do know and repeating it 40 times. It’s a great way to lull an audience into submission and fill up the time allotted to you.
Another good tip is to make “your opening statement an attention getter.” One suggested example of an opener is “Scientists all over the world agree that the world’s oceans are dying.” This is a “sobering thought,” the book suggests, and would leave your audience thinking, “Why, that would presage the end of the world. What are we doing about it?”
Of course, it could also leave your audience thinking: “This speaker is out to scare us. Who needs the oceans anyway? They’re polluted and full of smelly fish. And if they went away, we would have a lot more land to build Chick-fil-A stands.” For this reason, I suggest you go with a less controversial opening and try to build consensus. For example, “I know you’re going to hate listening to my speech, almost as much as I hate giving it. So, who’s for adjourning to the bar for Mai Tais and Pu-Pu Platters.”
Now, that’s the way to get your audience on your side and, with any luck, passed out on the floor.
In order to actually develop your material, the Carnegie book suggests you set aside 25 minutes in which you write down at least 50 questions on your topic. By answering your own questions, you will build the content of your speech. If your topic is so dreary you can’t think of any questions, feel free to use some of mine:
— Why was I chosen to give this stupid speech?
— When will the new guy in sales return my stapler?
— What’s the $1.99 special for lunch today at the Smorgy-Bob?
— Is it ever a good idea to go to a Jennifer Aniston movie?
Why do the voices in my head tell me that the marketing department is composed of Venusians?
Once you have your speech, recite it to yourself before trying it out in public. If you are putting yourself to sleep before you reach the end, that’s good news. Once you put your audience to sleep, you’ll be able to slip out from behind the podium and get to the Smorgy-Bob before the $1.99 special sells out.
Bob Goldman has been an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company in the San Francisco Bay Area. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at firstname.lastname@example.org.