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Pet Product News Editorial Blog:

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Speaking Out

By Sherri Collins

Editor, Pet Product News International

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Do you suffer from glossophobia? Most people do; it’s the fancy way of saying stage fright. According to the Book of Lists, speaking in public is the No. 1 fear, outranking death. As Jerry Seinfeld put it, “The average person at a funeral would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy.” The inability to overcome or at least control this fear can put a damper on a business career, especially in today’s multimedia-equipped environment. You may not end up speaking before a packed auditorium, but chances are you’ll have to give a formal talk at least once within your career to a group either in person (such as an in-store seminar or a chamber of commerce event) or via video conferencing/conference calling. What’s a shrinking violet to do?

In my case, take a speech course (or three or four). Most people who know me today do not believe that I was ever shy—but I was, extremely so. Seriously, as a young adult, I was so shy I wasn’t just a wallflower; I was the paste underneath the wallflower. Yet somehow, after taking a mandatory speech class in college, I was asked to join the speech team (were they that desperate for speakers?). I was still terrified of getting up in front of people, but the coaching I received--along with additional speech courses--helped me deal with and eventually control that fear.

This turned out to be a very good thing as I found myself presenting PetProductNews.com’s premiere webinar last week. Granted, I wasn’t speaking to a crowded room, but there were nearly 100 people listening to me live as I talked about the Dos and Don’ts of press-release writing. Actually, I think it was a bit worse, since my spoken words were being recorded for eternity (okay, not really, just for a year). At least when I was competing, my speeches never left the room. That said, the webinar did go off without a hitch and I will be forever thankful I completed 15+ units of speech way back when.

Taking a college course may not be practical for many, as it requires a great deal of free time and money. Fortunately, there are myriad organizations out there to help everyday businesspeople not only master their fear of public speaking, but improve their communication skills and their presentation persona. Toastmasters International is probably the most noted. One of my friends on the east coast is a member and says he’s seen remarkable improvement since joining. Other speaking clubs or groups include Rostrum, Speaking Circles and the Association of Speaking Clubs (ASC), plus there are numerous programs available on and from the Internet. Whatever the format, the goal is the same: to turn you into an effective public speaker. Because, if you’re not effective (i.e., you’re not getting across to your audience) then what exactly is the point of speaking out in the first place.

One final point to consider: Once you’ve conquered a fear, you just might find yourself having a good time. I know I did.

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