Even self-assured executives might have a little secret: they’re afraid of public speaking.
77 percent of Americans have glossophobia, a fear of speaking in public. While we often connect this fear to giving speeches in front of crowds, which it can be, the phobia can also manifest in a number of ways.
For instance, if you’re nervous that you’ll get asked a question in a meeting or feel your heart racing if a colleague drops by your office unannounced, you might have glossophobia.
Have you ever stayed up all night worrying about a presentation the next day? That counts, too.
If you’re worried about speaking with or to others, you may worry about how you’re perceived. Here’s how to speak with confidence at work, even when you’re nervous.
One of the factors that can make public speaking nerve-wracking is its spontaneity. Having a week to prepare for a presentation is one thing, but what about the questions your colleagues might ask afterward?
You can plan for both of these situations. For instance, you likely have ideas about what you might be asked in a scheduled meeting. Jot down a few questions and bullet point answers. During the meeting, you can also make notes so you’re prepared if asked to contribute.
If you are unsure about what to say, nervous speakers often tend to ramble.
“A lot of people just talk and the more they talk, the more unsure they sound and the more confused other people get,” said Jessica Chen, author of the course Speaking Up at Work.
Your stress certainly magnifies if you’re asked to speak in an unfamiliar situation. If you’re giving a presentation, practice it first in front of a colleague, a friend, or a spouse. Keep the timing the same as you would for the actual presentation and encourage them to ask you questions so you can practice your off-the-cuff response skills.
You can also practice before meetings. Give your practice partner the questions you jotted down in the last step and answer them with the answers you came up with. Even if you’re not asked any of those questions in the meeting, this preparation will help you feel more confident about what you might say.
Confident communicators focus on the atmosphere they want to convey in their presentations or meetings. For instance, perhaps you want to convey a friendly, open environment when connecting one-on-one with your team members. Or you want your humor and low-key personality to shine through in a presentation.
How to speak with confidence at work is becoming more self-assured in your natural communication style. If you set a tone that matches your energy level and personality, you’ll be more confident – because you’re being yourself, not trying to emulate someone whose communication style is nothing like yours.
The longer you wait to speak up at a meeting, the more difficult it will be to do it. If you know you’ll have to speak at a meeting – or you want to add your contributions to the discussion – it’s better to do it early and of your own volition, rather than waiting for someone to ask you to speak up.
Get to the meeting early, so you can settle in and de-stress. Start by making small talk with your colleagues rather than focusing immediately on the task. Take out your formal or informal notes. Then, set your intention to say something early on.
“Growth often comes from discomfort, so push yourself to speak up early. Set a simple strategy to say something in the first 10 to 15 minutes of the session—whether it’s to welcome attendees, present your main argument, ask a question, or offer an opinion,” said Melody Wilding, LMSW.
You might think that peppering what you’re saying with conversational discourse markers like “well,” “so,” “OK,” and “you know” would make you come across as unsure. This isn’t actually the case; instead, discourse markers like these make you seem more friendly and relatable.
For instance, you could say something like, “We were struggling back then, you know?” to a group – that last question builds rapport and connection.
However, if you use too many of these discourse markers, you can convey the opposite – that you are uncomfortable and lack credibility.
“Overuse can also make a listener resentful that speakers don’t fill out ideas on their own. For instance, Fox-Tree and Shrock (2002) suggest that using ‘you know’ and ‘I mean' too much can be construed as an annoying habit because they put an expectation of collaborative effort on the listener,” said Dr. Valerie Fridland, Professor of sociolinguistics at the University of Nevada.
Verbal hedges like “I think,” “I feel” and “maybe” are ways of softening assertions. If used occasionally in circumstances in which you are uncertain – like if you need to do more research to answer a question – they can be appropriate.
However, if you use them too often, you will both come across as less confident – and less persuasive.
When building your assuredness in speaking up at work, keep the old adage in mind, “Fake it until you make it.”
Plan what you’re going to say beforehand, as well as identifying the mood you want to set, as well as speaking up as early as possible in meetings. Also, consider how often you use the linguistic strategies that make your colleagues perceive you as more or less confident.
Then, once your colleagues start responding more positively to you, you’ll start to believe that you are a competent communicator. Like many things in life, practice will help you improve.
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