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You, Too, Can Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking

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Feeling nervous about presenting at that next meeting, trade show, client appreciation event, or conference? Have no fear: You are not alone. Public speaking is the No. 1 human fear, according to “The Book of Lists” – ahead of height, insects, financial problems, deep water, sickness, death, flying, loneliness, and dogs. Can you believe death ranked seventh? So, according to Jerry Seinfeld, we would rather be in the casket at a funeral than delivering the eulogy.

Heck, I can relate to all of this. I was deathly afraid of public speaking in my college days (pun intended). In fact, I failed out of a communication class simply because I refused to speak in front of the group. Now, I speak to rooms full of advisors professionally, as a full-time job. I even teach a public speaking class at a big-time university. If I can overcome this fear, anyone can.

Even financial advisors get nervous about public speaking. Even though most advisors are bright, interpersonal, and outgoing, public speaking is a different animal. Just yesterday, I was facilitating a meeting with a firm’s management team, which included the managing director, recruiter, marketing director, and all the sales managers. They had to present their elevator pitches to me and the others for critique. One of the sales managers almost couldn’t do it. She broke down under the pressure and refused, until she was coached. This is an experienced sales manager who has worked in the banking and insurance industries for many years.

Why do we feel nervous?

Some of the obvious (or not so obvious) reasons for the jitters are lack of preparation, self-confidence, and credibility in relation to the topic or audience. If you’re not prepared to speak to a group, than you shouldn’t be speaking to them: end of story. The exception might be an impromptu word or two, but you get the idea. Also, if you have little or no credibility with an audience, better establish it fast – as in the first few minutes of your speech. Otherwise, be prepared to fold like a cheap card table. You might think that if you prepare to the hilt and connect your message with the audience, you will have more self confidence and be less nervous. See how smart you are?

Some of the fears we have as a result of what we’re lacking (or think we’re lacking) include:

  • Fear of failure
  • Inadequacy
  • Embarrassment
  • Looking unprepared
  • Not being liked
  • Not connecting
  • Being poorly evaluated
  • The unknown

Bottom line: We like to be in control of our destiny, and when speaking in front of an audience (even a small one), we give up some of that control.

How to control nervousness before the big presentation

Everybody handles nervousness before and during a presentation differently; it just takes a little trial and error to determine what works for you in overcoming your fears. Here are some suggestions.

  • Know your topic and your audience cold. As part of your research and preparation, answer your audience’s (or your prospect’s) questions – before asked. Recall what went well, and not so well, the last time so you can make adjustments this time around.
  • Take your time when speaking; when nervous, we tend to rush things a bit. Start with your best stuff – I often open with a powerful story, quote, scenario, or challenge. This way, you will build your confidence and set a nice tone for the audience.
  • Get excited about your topic and make sure the tone of your voice and body language reflect this excitement.
  • Have a sense of humor about yourself. If you make a mistake and correct it, it always makes you look more “human” to the audience – especially when you make light of it.
  • Speak clearly and articulate every word. Visualize delivering a dynamic and powerful message.
  • Make your audience want more of you! Remember, in most cases you know your topic better than anyone – including your audience. Besides, if you forget to mention something, the audience will probably never know. But you will – for the next time.
  • Never, never, never confess you are nervous; wing it; apologize (unless you have offended someone); panic; use lots of notes; pace back and forth; cross your arms; or fiddle with pens, markers; flip chart pages, or slides.
  • Never lose your temper in front of the audience, argue with an attendee, or use profanity. You always lose and appear wrong. Nobody likes to be put in their place in front of a group.
  • Give yourself a break! It’s OK to feel a little nervous before a big talk. Even the pros do – trust me. Often, nervousness means you recognize the importance of the venue and what you have to say. It is truly a gift that someone has enough faith in you to invite you to speak about your topic of expertise; it’s even a greater gift when people actually attend.

I encourage all financial advisors to learn how to be good speakers and incorporate seminars into their practice. If you already deliver seminars or plan to, make sure you offer a ton of great information and lots of value. Keep in mind that prospects become clients because they believe you add value and know your stuff. Presentations are absolutely the best way to show them.

As a financial advisor or sales manager, your seminars, workshops, lunch and learns, and educational programs should be just that – educational programs. The tone of your presentation should never be promotional, but rather informational. The best presentations always are.

Michael Goldberg is a speaker, author, consultant and the founder of Building Blocks Consulting.For more information or to subscribe to Michael’s free online newsletter and blog The Building Blocks to Success please visit or


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