Avoiding the Pitfalls of Public Speaking

“Public speaking ranks as our No. 1 fear, even outranking the fear of death, says Peter Desberg, PhD, professor of psychology at California State University,” according to www.everydayhealth.com. The website also reports Desberg, who is the author of Speaking Scared, Sounding Good: Public Speaking for the Private Person as saying, “Some people have so much anxiety about speaking in front of an audience that they turn down promotions and ruin their careers.”

I intimately understand this phobic dread, despite being a public speaker for more than 25 years. Yet the first time I presented a brief message in a public speaking class at a Columbus college, I think I actually cried.

This occurred decades ago, leaving my memory about the terrifying experience a little fuzzy. I believe I also received the award for the “most improved” student that semester. Not the “best,” rather the one who no longer dissolved into a puddle of tears making a presentation. Later, I even became part of the Intercollegiate Speech Team at Bluffton University.

Back then, I would have never imagined I would eventually become a (former) TV reporter, speak in conferences, churches, civic meetings, or teach in a university setting. But like many folks presented with a challenging opportunity, we can either close the door due to fear, or we can walk through the open door with our hearts racing with anxiety.

After all, a famous Ralph Waldo Emerson quote says, “Always do what you are afraid to do,” and public speaking terrifies lots of people. With this in mind, I’ve written a list of pitfalls a public speaker can avoid. Most of these, I’ve learned the hard way.

First, “Know your audience.” Define your audience and be aware of the specific demographics, dress appropriately and tailor your message accordingly.

Secondly, “Be prepared.” Absolutely, do a run-through for technical issues at the designated venue ensuring your technology is compatible with their technology. Plus, practice, practice, practice your presentation in front of a mirror, for a willing family member, or even for your dog. Also, make sure it fits into the allotted time slot. Thirdly, “Be confident.” Your knees might be shaking, your stomach might be rumbling, and you might be perspiring from terror, but employ the classic philosophy, “Don’t let them see you sweat.” Smile and act like “I’ve got this,” even if you feel like you don’t.

Back to the second point, by being well-prepared you will have the confidence to present the subject matter with authority. If, despite your best preparation, technology fails you, proceed without it, acting in complete control, despite the fact you are churning with disappointment.

The fourth vital point is, “Engage your audience.” Avoid the trap of constantly looking down at your notes or monotonously reading from them. It frustrates the listener to hear someone with a riveting message deliver it as though the audience isn’t there. Fear might cause you to look down, but look up. Avoid making eye contact with individuals who appear bored or disapproving, and lock eyes with supportive audience members. It’s the only way you will be effective.

“Engaging your audience” holds true whether you are speaking to a civic club, delivering a sermon, reporting for TV, or instructing a college class. Envision one person in the crowd, who sincerely needs to hear what you have to say. Then speak to that fictitious individual who probably really does exist out there. That way your presentation won’t seemed staged or emotionless.

In closing, another paramount point is to watch for reliance on repetitive words throughout the presentation. Most of us who do public speaking fall into a bad habit of having “pet” words or phrases including: 1) you know, 2) okay, 3) um, 4) and the new “you know,” which is 4) “so.” Whether used when stalling for time to formulate our next thought, as a transition, or due to a bad habit of repeatedly saying the word, this can be quite distracting for the listener and negatively impact our message’s effectiveness.

There are other significant pitfalls, but not enough space to write them all. “So,” if this information isn’t helpful in combating your phobia about public speaking, “you know,” you could run from the challenge. “Um,” but that wouldn’t be a good idea. We never experience success without pushing past our fears to embrace a new opportunity. “Okay?”

Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and public speaker both in the secular and Christian communities. Her new Inspirational book, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel” is available at all major online outlets. Or for more information contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com

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Taking back the Table: Dinner isn’t just about Food

From Tablet to Table by Dr. Leonard Sweet

From Tablet to Table by Dr. Leonard Sweet

If we’re honest, most of us are foodies, but we don’t think of ourselves that way. The online Free Dictionary defines a foodie as, “One who has an ardent or refined interest in food; a gourmet. Also called foodist.” There might be a slight disconnect here, because when you throw in the word, “refined” that probably disqualifies a lot of us who like to woof down a greasy burger and fries occasionally. Although Merriam-Webster’s definition of foodie is “a person who enjoys and cares about food very much.” There you go, back in the group.

Despite all this talk about doing food with flair, perfect Pinterest dishes, and cooking shows like syndicated Food Network celebrity Rachael Ray’s, it appears most Americans aren’t doing a great job when it comes to doing dinner right. According to best-selling author, Dr. Leonard Sweet, our culture is in desperate need of remembering how to share a meal. “We consume fast food in front of our smartphones, never facing each other, barely acknowledging the existence of one another,” this quote is from the back cover of Sweet’s recent book, From Tablet to Table. “The majority of US families report eating a single meal together less than five days a week. And even then our ‘dinners together’ are mostly in front of the TV,” writes the author of more than sixty books. Apparently, my hubby and I aren’t the only ones who are looking forward to supper watching a new season of The Voice or Downton Abbey.

After all, with local pools closing for the season, along with experiencing a few unseasonably cool days, discerning Midwesterners can sense that winter is just around the corner. When the frigid temperatures and snow keep us indoors, summer barbeques and dinner on the patio will become a distant memory. That’s when many individuals hunker down in their homes on icy evenings, but it wasn’t always this way.

Just look at the recent feature, “Bairs Share Secrets of Long Love,” by Melody Vallieu, TDN editor. The story documents the 70 year marriage of Casstown residents, Frank and Betty Bair who were part of the annual Miami County Fair’s Golden Couple Anniversary photo. “They got to know each other during the long Ohio winters where families would take turns hosting evenings of food and games,” writes Vallieu.

If it wasn’t for sharing a meal and conversation during those bitter cold nights, perhaps, the Bairs might never have fallen in love. That’s the point, as a society we used to not only break bread, but we also spent time talking about the things that mattered to us at the dinner table. It was even more entertaining, when we were joined by a few interesting guests. photo (9)

In today’s society, we don’t always take time to sit down to share a meal either. Instead we grab a sandwich on the run. Sweet’s book reports that, “We eat one in every five meals in our car.” How many busy football and soccer parents out there can attest to the fact that sharing a bag of fast food in the minivan is a way of life? Even if we are seated at a table, how possible is it to have a significant discussion with another human being with our cell phones ringing and texts beeping? That’s why at the Sweet family table, technology isn’t allowed.

Still, not all parents are willing to make suppertime a no technology zone for themselves. A 2014 Psychology Today article by Anne K. Fishel Ph.D. explains, “According to our Digital Family survey responses of over 300 parents, only 18% of them allow their children to use technology at the dinner table, while almost twice that number of parents believe that [it] is OK for them to use their phones and screens at the table.” As a nation, we seem deeply concerned about issues like obesity and food insecurity. But have we considered how our new way of eating meals is affecting our kids? Sweet cites information compiled by sociologist Cody C. Delistraty for Atlantic Monthly, “The #1 factor for parents raising kids who are drug-free, healthy, intelligent, kind human beings? Frequent family dinners….The #1 predictor of future academic success for elementary-age children? Frequent family dinners…” etc. From Tablet to Table is also a deeply spiritual book that only church futurist Sweet could write. The consummate theologian always points us back to relationship whether it is relationship with others, or ultimately our relationship with a God who wants us to dine at His table.

To improve our culture, maybe we could institute a guideline like the unwritten Code of the West found on www.legendsofamerica.com. It reads, “Remove your guns before sitting at the dining table,” updating it to say, “Remove your technology before sitting at the dining table.” If you don’t, someone might call the sheriff!

Christina at The CarolineChristina Ryan Claypool is an Amy and Ohio Associated Press award-winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Her Website is www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

 

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The Etiquette of Personal Technology 101

Technology warning small fileIf you are young person today, there are probably a lot of things that annoy you. If you are not young, then you have to understand that over the last decade the word, “annoy” has taken on a whole new meaning. At first, I was intrigued by the way a teenager angry at their parents, teacher, or a peer could say, “They are so annoying,” and make it sound like a degrading profanity. If you listen closely, you will find that some teens find most of life’s frustrating circumstances “annoying” like having to do homework, clean their room, or even a bad hair day.

That’s why I thought the word, “annoy” so aptly describes how I felt some years ago when attending a meeting with hundreds of college students, and one very renowned speaker. This man had traveled countless miles to address the group hoping to impart some of the wisdom that he had learned on his life’s journey. Unfortunately, many undergraduates in attendance that day probably didn’t hear a word he said. After all, they were really busy. Earbuds were everywhere, with most students either engaged with an electronic device, or else frantically texting on their cell phones.

It was like a technology zoo in the auditorium that morning and all the battery powered caged animals were running amuck. The seventy-something speaker initially looked confused as he tried without success to gain the attention of his audience. Then I sensed his frustration and irritation realizing that he was being, “dissed.”

“Dissed,” might have just caused your internal spell check to turn code red, but it’s now accepted in mainstream usage. According to the Urban Dictionary “being dissed is the act of being disconnected, by voice or by modem from another party.” Another definition from the same source, says that “dissing someone is showing disrespect to them.”

Bottom-line, an alarming percentage of the learners gathered had opted to listen to another source of technological input, cutting off the speaker’s ability to be heard. The presenter finally seemed “annoyed” himself, and finished his talk rather abruptly and somewhat disheartened. I wondered what happened to the age-old principle to “listen when someone is speaking.” Or what about the etiquette rule of turning off technology when a meeting begins?

6353664 - CopyI was more than annoyed; I was truly heartbroken, concerned that these bright students were a precursor of the future. This topic is personal for me, because I’ve had to battle ongoing distractions as a public speaker for the past two decades. I’ve talked through screaming babies, women filing their nails, teenagers looking bored to death, and ringing cell phones. It’s difficult to explain away distracting phones, yet I have always comforted myself with the knowledge that the mom of the screaming baby or the woman manicuring her nails might need to hear what I’m saying. Same way, with a seemingly uninterested teen, since many times, hurting adolescents are listening intently but have to act bored for fear of being labeled uncool.

My school administrator husband whom I affectionately refer to as “Mr. Rules,” was visibly disappointed when I reported the technology frenzy of that morning’s event. He mumbled the word, “confiscate,” which I have since learned is what most K-12 public school policy dictates when students are using cell phones or technology inappropriately. Sadly, this policy was obviously not in place in the post-secondary gathering which I attended. Since the most distressing part is that the elderly speaker was African American, and his audience was comprised of about 95 percent Caucasian college kids. This eloquent orator had a culturally diverse message that those young people needed to hear. He might think he was disrespected due to his age or race.

But the truth is that many students were just too obsessed with their electronic devices to pay much attention.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Famous civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem.”

The problem is that the development of technological devices has rapidly exceeded the rules for their use. Maybe universities could create a course entitled, “The Etiquette of Personal Technology 101,” which we all could benefit from.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an award-winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her Website at www.christinaaryanclaypool.com

 

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