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Embrace the Spotlight: Three Myths About Public Speaking

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By Marshall Loeb, MarketWatch

RISMEDIA, July 3, 2007—(MarketWatch)—If you are one of the estimated 15 million Americans suffering from a phobia of public speaking, take heart. The trick to overcoming your fear may be as simple as re-examining your basic assumptions about public speaking, say Harrison Monarth and Larina Kase, communications coaches and authors of the new book “The Confident Speaker.”

Here are three of the public speaking myths that can hamper performance:

Myth #1: Everyone can tell I’m panicking!
When you present in front of a crowd, anxiety is often compounded by the belief that your nervousness is obvious. In reality, your feelings are harder to read than you think. No one but you knows your heart is racing, so take a breath and try to calm down.

It’s also helpful to remember that anxiety distorts thinking, making us less coherent and far harder on ourselves than we need to be. As Monarth and Kase write, “during periods of high anxiety, many of the conclusions we come to are not valid.”

The lesson: You’re probably doing much better than you think.

Myth #2: People are judging me
Many of us suffer from the mistaken belief that nervousness automatically counts against us, but that’s a fallacy. In fact, most audiences respond better to speakers who exhibit signs of discomfort than they do to those who are overly confident and arrogant. Why? Because people who seem slightly ill at ease in front of a crowd often appear more humble and genuine.

Another important point: “Most people have some level of worry about speaking in public, so when they see your nervousness, they may empathize with what you’re going through,” Monarth and Kase write.

The lesson: The audience is probably on your side.

Myth #3: Postmortems will help me improve
Carefully analyzing your performance after a public presentation can often be more harmful than helpful. Those of us who suffer from a fear of public speaking are our own worst critics, write Kase and Monarth, and we tend to use the postmortem as an opportunity to ruminate over our missteps, which only exacerbates the problem.

The lesson: Skip the post-game analysis.

Marshall Loeb, former editor of Fortune, Money, and the Columbia Journalism Review, writes for MarketWatch.

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