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So you, too, suffer from this fear?

Does this one fear beat the hell out of every other thought that scares you? Me too.

entertainment Updated: Aug 14, 2011 01:34 IST
Sonal Kalra
Sonal Kalra
Hindustan Times

A calmer you

If I were to quiz you on that one situation which makes most of us experience sweaty palms, pounding heart, dry mouth and trembling knees, what will you say? What dirty minds yaar … I’m talking about public speaking. Did you know that the fear of speaking before an audience is the second biggest cause of fear in the world, even more than the fear of death or terrorism? Jaan nikal jaati hai hamari, the moment we are told that we may have to address an audience, be it for a corporate presentation, a school debate or a college function. A microphone is worse than a gun for many of us. And today I’m trying to tell you how it’s possible to make ‘mike’ your best friend.

As a student who went on-stage every single day of my entire school life, I have no shame in admitting that even now, the very thought of speaking before public makes me want to run away and hide in a corner. And I can say with utmost certainty that the same happens even with those are professional speakers. But the very fact that it happens to everyone, will actually help you realise how it’s possible … and easy, to deal with it.

Here are the tips, not for becoming a ‘perfect’ public speaker but a ‘calm’ one:

1. Just do it: No, I did not get paid by the shoe brand to say this, and I can see that some dirty minds are still having a field day. Anyway, what I mean is that the best way to overcome the stress of public speaking is to grab every opportunity of doing it. If it means volunteering to make the presentation or nominating yourself for a contest, then please do it, don’t shy away. The feeling that you are in control and have chosen to speak out rather than it being forced on you, is the first sign of confidence. And you should also be proud of the fact that of all the people, only you had the guts to volunteer your name for something that scares the shit out of others.

2. Prepare and practice, but don’t memorise: The most experienced public speakers in the world have this one advice for you — always prepare in your head, if not on paper, what you are going to say. It could mean rehearsing it in front of the bathroom mirror, your domestic help, a spouse or even a bunch of friends — just practise a few times. But don’t make the mistake of ratta-fying a piece of prepared text. Trying to memorise something word by word puts a tremendous additional load on your brain, and that, if anything, would only make you nervous. Just retain a broad idea in your head about how to start, what you want to say, and let the words flow naturally.

3. Find a friend in the audience: You may have heard tips like, think of everyone in the audience as a fool, or naked, and you’ll feel more confident. I’m not sure if that works, and I do not trust what expressions your face may belie if you’ll visualise a room full of naked people. Instead, try and look for a friendly face in the audience. There’s always one. I remember once I had to give a talk at an event which had a packed…and the most grim-faced audience in the world. I then spotted this one woman who would smile and nod at every other sentence I spoke. Soon I realised that I was speaking to her, and that no one else in the auditorium mattered enough to make me feel nervous. Look for a friendly face, it always works. And just to return good karma, ensure that you are a friendly face when you are in the audience and someone else is trying to brave it on stage.

4. Remember that the audience does NOT look for perfection: If you think that by stuttering, stammering or getting tongue tied while speaking will make you look like a fool in front of the audience, you are indeed a fool. Because, the ande, tamatar and chappal throwing happens only in jokes and movies. In real life, the audience feels for the guy/girl who is human enough to forget lines or get nervous. They admire your courage, because they themselves don’t have it. If you get stuck while speaking, IT IS NO BIG DEAL. Just apologise to the audience and take a minute to collect your thoughts.
Believe me, their heart will go out to you. And on another note, when we are on-stage, we also make the mistake of thinking that everyone is intently watching and listening to what we are saying. Allow me to burst that bubble please. Some are busy texting on their phones (bad manners), some are day dreaming about Katrina Kaif, some are too nervous because their turn is yet to come and some are wondering which film to watch in the evening. That is how audiences are, world over. So heavens won’t fall if you’ll pronounce something wrong or stammer at a sentence. You may be the only one noticing.

5. KISS: This is the golden rule. ‘Keep It Short, Stupid’. People love speakers who are brief. And those who keep the language simple. It’s very important to speak the lingo of your audience. I get a lot of mails from readers of this column who say they like reading this because the language used is easy to comprehend. It’s another thing that the reason for this could be that my vocabulary is limited, but then it sure works for me if readers don’t feel bogged down by complicated wordplay. So, the next time you are up for addressing an audience, say something that they’ll not have to stress to understand. They’ll love you for it.

Finally, this may just be the cheesiest and the most juvenile thing ever in a column, but here’s a big hi to a reader, Popo, whose current mission is to see his very unique name on this page. Sorry to all those who are getting ready to beat me up for this. Sonal Kalra doesn’t know why the fear of public speaking is called glossophobia. Now she has a fear of words with long spellings.

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First Published: Aug 13, 2011 13:11 IST