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Minimizing Your Public Speaking Anxiety: 4 Top Tips I’ve Learned from Toastmasters

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In the world of PR, public speaking is critical for success. You must be able to speak eloquently and professionally with your coworkers, clients, journalists and other professionals in the industry. But the reality for most of us is that public speaking is terrifying. In fact, the fear of public speaking (glossophobia) is the No. 1 ranked phobia above fear of death (necrophobia) and fear of spiders (arachnophobia). According to the National Institute of Mental Health, glossophobia affects nearly 75 percent of individuals. However, overcoming this fear and minimizing the anxiety of public speaking is achievable, no matter your age or what stage you are in your career. 

Earlier this year I had the privilege of joining a Bay Area Toastmasters group, and it has been a beyond-amazing experience. Toastmasters is a group of local professionals who get together on a weekly basis to practice and build their public speaking skills. Through a sense of camaraderie, practice and feedback, we are on a mission to feel confident and comfortable when faced with the challenge – or really, opportunity – to speak in front of an audience.

Initially, joining the Toastmasters group was a bit intimidating. But after a few meetings, I realized this was a great selection of undeniably supportive individuals that were going to help me succeed. I’ve been going to Toastmasters for almost six months now, and looking back I’ve realized that the experience has taught me more than this post can fit. But in an effort to share some of the best takeaways, here are a few of my top tips:

Start with a structured storyline: Whether you’re writing a pitch, press release or even just an email to a client, everything should have a structured storyline: intro – body – conclusion. Being able to speak or write with a framework in mind will keep your audience engaged and allow them to effectively follow your key messages

Keep it short and sweet and you’ll succeed: If you know anything about PR, you know it’s a fast-paced industry. Your time is precious and so is everybody else’s!  So stay organized and concise. In Toastmasters, the longest speech is a maximum of 8-10 minutes, with most between 5-6 minutes. When speaking with somebody on the phone or in-person—whether it’s a client call, pitching a journalist or talking to a coworker—be mindful of their time and get to your key points quickly. They will appreciate your consideration and you’ll free up time to get back to what’s at hand.

Like, minimize your.. um.. filler words: Let’s face it, we all use the common “like” or “um” on occasion, but try to minimize the frequency of them as much as possible. At every Toastmasters meeting, we have an assigned grammarian, whose role is to monitor and count each person’s use of filler words (e.g. like, um, but, so, etc.) And trust me, the people you’re talking to will notice them much more than you notice yourself. The next time you’re talking to a friend or coworker, pay extra attention to your use of “likes” or “ums.” By cutting these filler words out of your speech, you’ll appear much more professional in any setting.  

Own your mistakes – you’re only human: Our Toastmasters group is made up of everyday business professionals. Nobody is an award-winning public speaker or is there to criticize your every word. This made me realize that everybody makes mistakes, in Toastmasters and in life in general. Everybody stutters, pauses and says the wrong word on occasion, whether it’s you, your boss, a journalist or your client. So don’t get hung up on your mistakes, because your audience has most likely made them too. Just own them and move on.

All in all, I’m incredibly happy with my decision to join Toastmasters. Not only does it help you improve your skills and confidence in public speaking, but it also offers some great key takeaways that can be applied to any personal or professional situation—especially PR. Ready to take your public speaking to the next level? Use the “Find a Club” feature on the Toastmaster’s website to find a club near you.

Written by Celina Poonamallee, an Account Executive in San Francisco.