September 29, 2009 | last updated May 26, 2012 8:43 am

Noreen Reilly, of Reilly Training Resources, Newington | Public speaking needn't be scary

Editor's note: Noreen Reilly of Reilly Training Resources in Newington will be speaking on Sept. 30 at 6:30 p.m. at Simsbury Public Library about impromptu speaking.

Why are people so afraid of public speaking? What's at the core of their discomfort?
People are afraid of looking stupid. That's the bottom line. At the core we are afraid people will judge us and ultimately not like us. We worry that we won't know what to say or how to say it. We're fearful people will notice our nervousness: blanking out, trembling hands, turning red, excessive sweating, or distracting gestures, etc.

One aspect of your talk is going to be rules for speaking off the cuff. What are some of the rules? What are some of the rules that people overlook when speaking off the cuff?
1) In a word - breathe. Most people who get nervous speaking don't breathe properly and consequently don't get enough oxygen to their brain. This makes it more difficult to think clearly. It's important to practice diaphragmatic breathing, inhaling and exhaling using the belly, not the chest. You'll look and feel more relaxed.

2) Concentrate on your message. It's important not to focus on yourself and what you think might go wrong. That often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The focus should be on your message, not you.

3) Be yourself. It's essential to discover your own voice and develop your own unique style. You can borrow techniques from others; however, don't try to completely copy someone else's style. People are their best when they let their true personalities come out.

How do you teach being able to think on your feet? Don't you either have it or not? Is there a technique for quickly organizing one's thoughts before speaking?
A lot of being able to speak on your feet is the belief that you can. It reminds me of the quote by Henry Ford, "If you think you can or you think you can't - you're right". In order to be successful thinking on your feet you need to have a positive mental attitude.This of course is a tall order and something most people struggle to overcome. Those negative thoughts can creep into your subconscious when you least expect. I see it in people's faces sometimes as their name is called to get up and speak. Or they might mutter "oh crap" or some other expletive under their breath. This gives me an opportunity to address the negative thought or feeling that preceded the statement or body language.

I'm a big believer in guided meditation or creative visualization. This is a technique that Olympic athletes and other sports professionals use to imagine a successful outcome. I have people envision being successful: looking and feeling confident, being comfortable standing in front of a group, being in control of their body language and voice, and answering difficult questions, etc. People respond very positively to this technique.

Thoughts About Organizing Your Thoughts: I like the "Rule of 3". It's easy for people to remember three things. Sometimes for a short presentation one point is enough. It's difficult for people to remember a long laundry list of things. Making three key points is a good rule of thumb. As the speaker, you don't need to tell people there will be three points, just start talking and the points will usually just pop into your head.

You advocating to your students shifting the focus off themselves and "all the potential catastrophes that could happen." Is that the old bromide of picturing your audience in its underwear?
Goodness no. Picturing people in their underwear or seeing people naked, now that gets me nervous! I guess if it works for you go right ahead and do it. I personally advise people against it. The point is, don't fear the audience. Think about having a conversation with a group of new friends. Find a friendly face in the audience and make eye contact with them. Put your attention on the audience and deliver information of value. This will help you to stop worrying about yourself.

You also talk about people reprogramming negative experiences from their past. Could you give an example of how that works from one of your past clients?
Yes, many years ago when I first started training I had a woman in my class who had a very negative experience public speaking. She was exceedingly nervous about getting up in front of the group even for one minute (my minimum requirement). She was so traumatized by the situation I asked for more detail. When she was in the 9th grade everyone had to deliver a 45 minute presentation for their science class. She was the only one that didn't get help from their parents for this big project. She only spoke for a few minutes. It went so badly that she ran from the room crying and avoided speaking publicly altogether. She came to my class hoping to overcome that fear, but not believing she could. I listened to her and gave her my take on the situation. Then I confidently told her that was the past and that today was a new day. I had to spend some extra time during class to build her confidence.

Each person had two opportunities to speak. On her second attempt her peers voted her best speaker. As she walked away with her small prize she held it up and kept thanking the group. If you saw the pride in her eyes and how she kept holding up the prize - it looked like she won an academy award. She did in fact win that day. She overcame a fear that she had carried with her for 20 years. That's why I love what I do.

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