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Take a walk Featured

6:34am EDT November 29, 2001
The perspiration is slowly sliding down the middle of your back. Your knees are knocking and your hands are shaking. Will you get through this or will you pass out on the spot?

Sounds like the scene during your first job interview or the birth of your first child. But this is all happening because you are about to give a speech.

Public speaking is ranked as the second greatest fear in our lives, second only to the fear of encountering a snake. I knew I wanted to get into the speaker-training business when I saw my first survey on fear in the early '80s.

That survey showed our greatest fear was the threat of nuclear holocaust, with public speaking ranked No. 2.

The biggest problem is fear. You call it fear, but what you are really going through is an oversupply of adrenaline, a natural substance in the body. When your system receives too much adrenaline, that creates fear and anxiety. Here are some tips on how to reduce that problem.

* Be prepared. Studies show that nervousness can be reduced by about 60 percent if you are well prepared. This means reading your speech or presentation out loud at least five times before the actual speech. Do it in front of someone and ask for an evaluation. Reading silently to yourself is mostly a waste of time.

* Breathe deep. About five minutes before speaking, take in a very deep breath, then exhale slowly as you let all your muscles relax. Try doing it while standing. Caution: If you do this more than twice, you could hyperventilate and pass out.

* Get some light exercise. Speed-walk for a few minutes. Exercise your legs and arms at the table while waiting your turn. Get rid of the excess adrenaline.

* Don't announce your anxiety. I cringe when a speaker starts out, "I am a bit nervous so here goes." In training, I videotape participants and show them that while they're nervous, no one can tell. That's an important point. As nervous as you are, shaking and sweating, you are probably the only one who knows it. That knowledge alone, gained through the videotape and critique session, is often enough to reduce nervousness 30 to 40 percent.

Make sure your script is properly prepared. Here are the three most important rules of script preparation.

* Print the speech out using 16-point font so you can see it with ease. Print only two-thirds of the way down the page.

* Double-space all sentences, triple-space all major thought changes.

* Never carry a sentence over from one page to another.

The power to verbally convince is a tremendous asset. It can move people to do unusual things. Think of what Hitler, Churchill, Kennedy, Reagan and Clinton achieved by being excellent communicators.

You do not have to be born with the skill, although being extroverted helps. You can learn to be a dynamic, convincing speaker, whether it is giving a presentation before a group or asking the boss for a raise.

Bill Patterson is president of Reputation Management Associates, a Columbus-based communication training firm. He can be reached at 614-486-5000 or bp@media-relations.com.