In a recent Public Speaking Master Class, I asked the participants the following question: “Do you know what percentage of people in the world is afraid of public speaking?”
In came the answers, “Fifty percent?”, “Seventy percent?”, ”Sixty-two percent!”, “Ten percent?”….
“About 99 percent” I chimed in.
“Aaah!” The audience gasped.
I continued to prod. “What can you become when you overcome that fear?”
One lady said, “We can be among the top 1 percent in the world.”
That’s so true.
It is said that the number-one fear of most people is the fear of public speaking.
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld made this view popular by saying: “Most people fear public speaking more than death. Which means at a funeral, the person delivering the eulogy would rather be in the casket than be speaking.”
That, however, is an unfair comparison and the wrong conclusion.
Death is something you should fear since it is not in your hands. However, public speaking is different. Public speaking is a skill that can be learned by anyone who can talk. With the right help and guidance, you can learn the skills required to speak in front of any audience and convey your ideas with clarity and confidence.
Then why don’t more people become public speakers?
Most people believe that great speakers are born with the gift of speaking. Therefore, they often end up listening to speakers in awe, without realizing this is a skill they too can learn.
Here’s the irony. Every speaker I have spoken to admits that they feel nervous before each presentation. As an international leadership coach and public speaking coach, I have met hundreds of people who have a morbid fear of speaking. Even though some people have an innate flair for speaking, the vast majority don’t.
Perhaps more people would pick up this skill if they realized its vital relevance.
Why is this a life-changing skill
Thanks to powerful Internet search engines, most people have almost unhindered access to a vast ocean of information. Therefore, information or knowledge is no longer enough. You can no longer hide behind your qualifications or experience. If you want the edge in your career, the skills of speaking and persuasion are paramount. It is no longer optional. Let’s face it. You are judged by the content of your conversation far more that the content of your CV.
Take a moment to think about what you will gain by mastering these skills in your personal life and in your professional life.
Warren Buffett (the world’s 2nd richest man) used to be terrified of speaking in front of other people. He even skipped the public speaking class he enrolled in, due to the fear of speaking. Later, he would pick up this vital skill. Now, thousands of people travel thousands of miles to Omaha, just to hear him speak.
Buffet was asked in an interview: “What habits did you cultivate that you see as the foundation of your success?”
Buffet said “You’ve got to be able to communicate in life and it’s enormously important. Schools, to some extent, under emphasize that. If you can’t communicate and talk to other people and get across your ideas, you’re giving up your potential.”
Gerald R. Ford once shared his regret. “If I went back to college again, I would concentrate on two areas: learning to write and to speak before an audience. Nothing in life is more important than the ability to communicate effectively.”
In July 2004, Barack Obama, a relatively unknown junior politician, got an opportunity to speak at the Democratic National Convention, like so many others in the past 228 years of American democracy. However, Obama realized his golden opportunity. His speech was well crafted, well delivered and well received.
In fact, Obama’s speech was better than John Kerry’s (the presidential nominee). That one speech catapulted Obama on a trajectory that took him from the backyard of Chicago to the front yard of the White House, to become the 44th President of the United States. (Ironically, John Kerry would later end up working for Obama!)
How could Obama achieve this? It was not his pedigree, experience or background. It was the way he speaks and connects with people. That one speech in 2004 boosted his fame and fortune. He got more invites to speak at other conventions. Obama built his reputation as an orator and leader with every subsequent speech because Obama knew the ‘make or break’ potential of every speech.
Every time Obama gets an opportunity to speak, he speaks with the intention of delivering a message that will have a lasting impact, both on the listeners and on his own reputation.
Most people become average speakers or even poor speakers because they do not see this ‘make or break’ importance of speaking up — on stage or off stage; in the office or in the community.
The fringe benefit of public speaking
When you can speak well, most people believe you are smarter than you are. Little do they know that speakers often use scientifically proven techniques to influence listeners into their ways of thinking. No wonder so many successful politicians and leaders cultivate the ability to speak.
A recent example is Donald Trump’s election campaign. The one skill that got him more than 62,979,000 votes was his ability to speak. You can hate him for his policies, behaviors or opinions, but he has mastered several influencing skills. The fact that he could get the number-one position in America with zero political experience was due to his ability to connect with words that resonate. (I mention about the tricks politicians use in my book Mastering Leadership The Mousetrap Way.)
Every opportunity you get to speak up is an opportunity to convey your ideas, to project your expertise, and to demonstrate your ability to lead. It opens doors for you in ways you could never imagine.
Why you might NEVER learn this skill
Even if you do understand the importance of this life-changing skill, you may not even try to pick up this ability because there is a certain dependency on the degree of urgency you might have. I have noticed that most people take action only after major embarrassments — they lost a rare opportunity due to a bad presentation, or froze when they stood in front of an audience or lost their job! (In many cases, it was all three.)
You will only venture to learn this skill if you realize that
1. 99 percent of people have a fear of public speaking
2. This is indeed a life-changing skill that you too can master
The choice is yours to make. Of course, you can choose to remain among the 99 percent of people, or as the lady from my recent Public Speaking Master Class said, “We can be among the top 1 percent in the world.”
Public speaking is a skill you can learn if you really want to. Lack of effective communication is among the 7 barriers that might be preventing your career progression. If you find an opportunity to learn this skill the right way, from the right person, don’t wait for the right time.
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There is a cure for the fear of public speaking. If you know the cure for death, let me know!
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Manoj Vasudevan is a renowned Next Level Leadership Readiness expert, management consultant, international speaker, popular author, and coach. World number 3 at the World Championship of Public Speaking Las Vegas, Manoj is known for his expertise in simplifying complex topics into practical strategies. He is the CEO of Thought Expressions and is an MBA from Imperial College, London. He speaks at international conferences, multinational companies, universities, and coaches leaders from all walks of life around the world. His books include the international bestseller Mastering Leadership The Mousetrap Way. To contact the author click here.