CEP Magazine (September 2022)
Glossophobia is the fear of public speaking and it is a remarkably common social phobia. Someone can be comfortable and outgoing working during networking breaks at an SCCE conference, but terrified when asked to speak to the same group of people as an audience. For many (if not all) of us in the ethics and compliance field, public speaking is not something we can avoid. Whether we are organizing training for our colleagues or clients, presenting to the board of directors, or wanting to share our knowledge and ideas to help others learn at a conference, we are all going to have to get up and talk occasionally. . Although I consider myself somewhat of a socially awkward person and will never be the life of the party, I learned to love public speaking, and it is now something I look forward to. In this short article, I’ll share some of my suggestions on how you can address any fears you may have about public speaking and let your knowledge and ideas help other people.
Who are you trying to help and what do you want them to learn?
I am in favor of reframing “training and communication” as “learning and engagement”. Although the difference may seem subtle, I find ‘training and communication’ to be too focused on the process or intent, while ‘learning and engagement’ is focused on the desired and actual outcome on the target audience. Even if you are a renowned speaker or the number one expert in your field, the focus of any lecture or presentation is the audience. As a speaker, you have to ask yourself: How do I get the audience from where they are at the start of the presentation to where I want them to be at the end of the presentation? You need to have a clear understanding of who you’re trying to help, what they need to know, and then be able to narrow that information down to a very small number of key learning outcomes for your presentation.
A good way to test if you have a clear understanding of who you are trying to help and the desired learning outcomes is to see if you can summarize your presentation in one or, at most, two sentences. I find it helpful to then incorporate this one-sentence summary into my presentation, including towards the beginning of my presentation (to introduce the audience to what we are going to cover) and at the end (to remind the key aspects from what we have covered). Here is an example of a one-sentence summary of a presentation on the role of leadership in an effective compliance program that I have used at a few SCCE events: “Leaders, managers and supervisors at all levels of organization, play a role in developing and maintaining a culture of ethics and compliance across an organization; this happens when they are engaged, speak regularly about compliance, and are inspired to use their roles to drive integrity and compliance.
Don’t hide behind slides (or read every word on the slides)
I rarely read my slides verbatim and usually emphasize if I do. (“I know you can all see the words, but this part is so important to me, I hope you don’t mind if I read it out loud.”) There are times when I want someone ‘un narrates the text for me (if you ever hear me say I “read” a book, I probably mean I listened to the audiobook version), but I don’t go to presentations or at conferences to hear someone read a script for me that I could otherwise read myself. Slides – if you even choose to use slides – are a tool to help you; don’t fall into the trap of tricking your audience into believing that the slides drive the presentation and that you’re just there to nervously narrate large parts of the text. Google CEO Sundar Pichair once said at a conference, “Since stories are best told with images, bullet points and text-heavy slides are increasingly avoided at Google.” I haven’t given any talks or presentations yet where I’ve only used pictures and no words, but challenge yourself to think about how your slides might help or hinder moving your audience where you want.
Manage your time
Like many other presenters, I found myself saying the words, “We’re running out of time here, so I’m going to go through that last bit very quickly” and “I know I said I was going to leave time for questions, but that’s all the time we have today. Time management can be tough, but you need to practice and rehearse your presentation and have a plan for what to do if you’re running late or have too much time. You control the presentation and the content, so practice to make sure what you cover will perfectly fill the time you have.
Rehearse like a comedian
Comedians rarely test new material on large crowds. Instead, they test the material on smaller crowds and see what works and doesn’t – large crowds will then only hear the jokes that got the big guys laughing in small comedy clubs. If you have an important presentation coming up, don’t make it your first time giving the presentation. Find a way to do the presentation once or twice in advance and get feedback on what works and what doesn’t. These practice sessions will also help you anticipate questions your target audience might have, and you can incorporate them into your presentation. Another way to rehearse is to use the “Rehearse with Coach” feature in PowerPoint (it’s found under the Slide Show tab). This feature allows you to get feedback on your use of filler words, spoken words per minute, pitch, and whether you are just reading the words on your slides.
Watch TED Talks
Have you ever seen a TED Talk where the speaker begins with a lengthy introduction, including where they went to school, their past work experience, and their current title? Rather than starting with their bios to justify why they’re on stage, TED Talks speakers often open with a story. For example, Verna Myers began her speech with, “I was on a trip this summer, and had a wonderful time listening to Isabel Wilkerson’s amazing song. The warmth of other suns”; Bill Gates opened his speech by saying: “When I was a child, the catastrophe that worried us most was a nuclear war”; and Brene Brown opened her talk with, “So, I’ll start with this: A few years ago an event planner called me because I was going to do a speaking event.”
In an age when anyone can Google your name or search for you on LinkedIn, don’t use your first few moments to talk about your past or explain, “Today I’m going to tell you about…” Being sure stage, your audience will assume that you (like TED Talks speakers) are qualified and knowledgeable about your topic. The public assumes that you are knowledgeable and qualified; show them their presumption is correct by wow them with engaging content and skip the traditional biographical intro. You are the person who has the ability to move your audience from where they are at the start of the presentation to where you hope to reach them at the end. Your opening comments are key to engaging them, and you want to do this with something directly relevant to the topic that will whet their intellectual appetite. This does not mean that your background is not important or that you do not need to have knowledge to present it; it’s more about letting your audience see your value and credibility from how you can engage them on a topic.
You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room
I had very mixed feelings before speaking at my first SCCE conference several years ago. I was on a panel with three other people who were – and continue to be – far smarter, better informed, and more experienced in ethics and compliance than I am. Some might say it was a case of “impostor syndrome”, but I actually didn’t have that much knowledge or experience at the time, and I think it was a combination of self-awareness, fear and a touch of impostor syndrome. . I debated not being on the panel, but realized I had knowledge and insights that could benefit those present. The session went much better than I had hoped, and it helped me to remember that we all have knowledge and experience relevant to others. We don’t have to be the most experienced or knowledgeable person in the room. If we have information that may be valuable to others, we should be sure (without being overconfident) that we want to share that knowledge and experience with others.
Don’t let the butterflies get into your head
Even though I’ve presented many times now, I still get nervous before every presentation I give. I learned two simple tips along the way that really helped turn those feelings of panic into positive energy.
The first tip may result in some eye-rolling and may not be for everyone, but here it is: Instead of telling yourself you’re nervous, you can reframe that feeling as a feeling of excitement. I always have butterflies in my stomach before I speak, but I let them stay in my stomach and not enter my head, saying to myself, “I’m delighted to speak today and that’s how I feel. rather than “I’m so nervous.”
The second trick to reframe your thoughts is to use a process called interrogative self-help. Rather than trying to push yourself or someone else forward by saying, “You can do this,” you ask yourself, “Why can I do this?” then list the reasons why you can do it. You basically question yourself in a positive way and remember why you can give the speech you are about to give.
Each of us is unique and we all have knowledge and experience that can help others. Don’t let your fear of public speaking keep your potential audience from hearing your voice and the valuable information you can offer. Whatever subject(s) you are knowledgeable and skilled in, I hope you find the confidence, the audience, and the opportunities to let your voice and ideas be shared with the world.
Take away food
Glossophobia is the fear of public speaking and a common social phobia.
Public speaking is something ethics and compliance professionals need to do and something we can all be more comfortable doing.
Learn how to use slides effectively and reframe negative thoughts.
The audience will assume you have knowledge and credibility, so start your pitch with something engaging and directly relevant to the topic rather than your biography.
You don’t have to be a world-class expert to speak with confidence and credibility. Everyone has knowledge and experience that can help others.