The next time you stand up to speak in court or elsewhere, don’t be so rehearsed that you leave no room for improvisation.
Trying to memorize every word could spell disaster if you get thrown off your script – which you likely will.
That’s one nugget of advice from Ruth Kinloch, a writer, blogger and tutor in New Haven, Connecticut.
In a recent blogpost on IvyPanda, Ruth shared 27 pointers for overcoming the anxiety of public speaking. The post offers a wealth of practical advice for lawyers and other public speakers. In it, she cautions against “putting your fear on the pedestal.”
To learn more about what Ruth means by that, and to glean more wisdom from her, we conducted an e-interview with her. Here are some highlights:
On becoming a blogger, tutor and self-described “language lover.” “As a child, I was quite passionate about making up all kinds of stories and telling them to my parents or friends. I would also use words I came up with myself and explain their meanings because I thought they would make my stories more unique and exciting. That passion didn’t go away as I grew up, so it was only natural for me to study languages. After graduating from Indiana University, I started working as a private tutor and then went on to become an academic advisor. After a couple of years, I returned to tutoring and do it as a part-time job to this day. I feel that tutoring gives me the opportunity to study language even more in-depth while sharing my knowledge with others.”
The importance of preparation. “Public speaking anxiety is obviously a problem that has to be dealt with, especially when professionals like lawyers face it. However, another important factor is moderation. If you’re afraid of public speaking to the point that you memorize all of your materials down to the last word, that will only lead to a big disaster if something doesn’t go according to the script. By leaving room for improvisation, you not only challenge yourself to become a better speaker but also give yourself a chance to move a bit away from the memorized script. That also acts as a mental distraction, which will make you less anxious.”
Don’t put your fear on the pedestal. “As I said in the article, the last thing you need to do is to focus on your fear, which will make things ten times worse. I’d say that fear is a natural reaction. Being aware of the situation, your body sends a burst of adrenaline so that you’re able to perform at the peak of your capabilities. Don’t let that energy go to waste by spending it panicking. Again, nobody’s here to judge you, so just take a deep breath (and that’s not a figure of speech, I mean literally breathe!) and engage with people through your speech. Are you fearful about your client’s fortune? Imagine how they must feel. So, success is your only option.”
Feeling comfortable in the speaking venue. “Getting into the premises early will help relieve built-up anxiety, as entering an unfamiliar room full of people may be overwhelming. Some might even suggest coming a couple days in advance, which is not a bad idea. You can use this time to practice some parts of your speech. When speech time comes, you’ll be able to remember that you were just here, saying the very same things in an empty room. You should also move around the place while you speak. It gives you an outlet for energy, engages the audience even more, and makes your presentation livelier.”
Speak from your feelings, not your fears. “Some public speakers like to start their presentations with a joke to lower the tension in the room. I suggest starting with a story about yourself. You know yourself best, so it won’t be that hard, which will allow you to relax a bit. Apart from that, it will do the same thing for the audience, because they will get to know you better. This is where talking about your feelings comes in. You don’t want to highlight your fears in such a relaxed state. You’ve built up a friendly mood, so it’s only appropriate to share what you feel rather than what you’re afraid of.”
The importance of body language. “First of all, you need to study the way you look in your neutral, relaxed state. This will be the starting point to building a proper, confident image. One of the most important body language signs that says a lot about you is your posture—the way you stand and sit. Keep your back straight. Don’t cross your arms to distance yourself from everyone or attempt to look smaller. Also, keep a subtle but composed smile, which will make you look positive and friendly.”
Getting the tone and pace right. “The way you deliver your speech will say a lot about you. If you speak too fast or too slow, it’s obvious that something’s wrong and you’re probably nervous. Try keeping a moderate pace. Speak clearly and in a conversational tone, which will make it easier to engage with the audience. Incorporating pauses and varying your volume will help naturally highlight certain parts of your speech, too.”