Don’t Overcome the
Fear of Public Speaking;
Instead, Enjoy your next Presentation
by Zainal Abidin Rahman
Is it possible to enjoy making a presentation?
Especially with strangers or, worse still, with your
boss in the audience?
Almost all the answers I received when I asked my
clients this question were a definite “NO”. One HR
Manager who called on me to conduct a public speaking
workshop for her staff admitted she herself has the
fear. “Who like to make presentations?” she lamented in
a moment of candour. Unknown to her, she may have been
unduly influenced by the American study that put fear of
public speaking ahead of the fear of heights, insects,
death etc. Subconsciously, she may have concluded if
this is true for ugly Americans, what more we docile
Asians? Nevertheless, the irony may not be lost on her
since she realised enough on the importance of
presentation skills for her to get her staff trained.
So why do I call my basic presentation skills
workshop The Joy of Presenting?
A friend cynically explained that perhaps years ago I
found enlightenment in a popular book The Joy of Sex
written by Alex Comfort. Not really, but well - that’s a
topic for another article.
I called my workshop Joy of Presenting because I
sincerely and truly believe that it’s possible, and
indeed highly desirable, to enjoy making your next
presentation. The rationale is simple enough: If you
enjoy running, you’re likely to be a good runner; so if
you enjoy making a presentation you’re likely to be a
great presenter, or at least have the makings of one.
And I know of many people who derive great fun out of
making presentations. Coming from a background of
avoiding public speaking myself, I have come a long way
in transforming my own beliefs. (Anyway, recent research
linking unpleasant tasks to stress to cancer should be
enough to change anyone’s mind.)
I grew up very much influenced by my teachers (read
imprinting in NLP). One day, exasperated by the noise
her students were generating in class, my favourite
English Literature teacher Mrs Vaz scolded the entire
class and remarked that “boys should learn to be quiet –
you should aspire to be strong silent men - because only
strong silent men get results.” Since John Wayne and
Clint Eastwood were popular screen heroes during my
childhood, somehow I made the connection. I soaked on
the advice and developed the stoic silent personality.
A stoic silent personality, I later discovered, is great
for screen heroes and lighthouse keepers and corporate
work horses. In the corporate office, the silent
personalities don’t get heard. And that was what I
discovered six months into my first job after
university. Recognition and rewards usually go to those
who were able to speak up at meetings and briefings.
Transforming to a more gregarious personality willing to
stand up and deliver was the only solution. Joining
Toastmasters International and volunteering to be the
masters of ceremonies were among the ways to make the
change. However, it was hard work and often you don’t
get good advice or role model.
Then I learned NLP and changing deep-rooted beliefs and
habits got easier. The path for others need not be that
tough or long. Bert Decker described the path as going
through the following 4 stages, each with its own label
Stage 1: The Non-Speaker
Emotion: Terror; panic
Behaviour: Rarely speaks in front of groups, usually
Attitude: Passive, giving excuses
Position: Works in a job that doesn’t require high-level
communication skills; usually low status.
Stage 2: The Occasional Speaker
Emotion: Fear but not panicky
Behaviour: Speaks occasionally. Can be coaxed but never
Attitude: Active reluctance. Growing awareness of the
importance of speaking/presenting in front of groups
Position: Front-line doer
Stage 3: The Willing Speaker
Emotion: Tension, Anticipates rather than dreads
Behaviour: Speaks often. Readily speaks his/her minds at
Attitude: Willing to present
Position: Management with proven ability
Stage 4: The Communicator
Emotion: Stimulated about speaking. Enjoys the
interactions and feedback (not to mention the applause).
Behaviour: Speaks often
Attitude: Enthusiasm. Jumps at the chance to speak
The reason many people don’t like giving presentation is
that they don’t see themselves good at it. Their logic
is “I am not good at this; I don’t want to let people
see me when I am no good; therefore I don’t enjoying
doing it.” It’s a form of self-deception as the Arbinger
people would put it. The truth is you don’t have to be a
great presenter to enjoy making a presentation and so
long as you avoid it you’ll never be a great presenter.
So enjoy it first and gradually through sheer practice,
you will be great.
How then can we enjoy making a presentation?
The answer is simple and has only 2 requirements.
1 Enjoy meeting people and serving to influence them
through sharing the information or knowledge you have.
And we can enjoy meeting people if our primary intention
of doing the presentation is connecting with the
audience rather than trying to impress them, which is
the (wrong) focus of many ineffective public speaking
programs. When you set the intention of impressing
people, you benchmark unrealistic role models in your
mind. It is this personal expectation that stress you
out. Attempts at impressing people always end up being
Where do I learn this? I learned it from lessons in
Business English. Contrary to what I’ve been taught in
school, I learned that in writing business
correspondence I should aim to express my thoughts and
ideas to my readers, and to express them simply and
directly; not to impress them. To connect with the
reader. I realised later that this exhortation to
express and not to impress is applicable to many aspects
of life including making a presentation. So making eye
–contact with your audience is fundamental (remember the
saying “He has expressive eyes.”?). Eye contact ensures
that you are always connected with your listeners’ moods
and temperament. Do you notice that people who like each
other make more eye contact than those who don’t? The
principle applies especially in a presentation.
2 Prepare for the presentation, even if you are the
world’s leading expert on the topic you’ve been asked to
Being prepared is our way of telling our audience that
we respect them. Being prepared means giving a
presentation that is clear and comprehensible in the
given time, especially with regard to the audience’s
prior knowledge. Being prepared involved going through
our materials, again and again, making doubly sure that
the points flow, the transitions are in place, the
contents are not overflowing and that the audience get
the message you are driving at. It incurs some
investment in time prior to the presentation. It’s time
worth spent. It’s about respecting our audience.
So there you have it – the 2 requirements to help you
enjoy your next presentation. They are basically about
changing mindsets. With these 2 requirements you can
quickly sail through from stage 1 to stage 4 in double
“That’s all? But I want to be a great presenter!” you
may protest. Now if you want to be a great presenter,
which is what people normally gravitate to once they’re
enjoying their presentations, then you need to develop a
third requirement, which is:
3 Be engaging.
Being engaging means, you are managing the attention and
moods of the audience in order to help drive your
message using various presentation skills devices.
Again, it’s not about impressing others. I think I need
to emphasise this point because too many people think
they need to be impressive when making presentations.
That’s the number one cause for fear of public speaking.
More about how you can be engaging in a later article.
Zainal is a
business trainer and coach specializing in
personal and organizational change. He has
worked with thousands of clients, individuals
and corporate, and brings with him expertise in
OD, HR, NLP, ericksonian hypnosis, Solutions
Focus, Appreciative Inquiry, The Enneagram,
energy psychology and various other effective
modalities that create change at the personal
and corporate levels. Contact:
For reprint permission, please email
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