No one is born with eloquent communication skills, but everyone has the potential to hone these abilities. Even the most famous people in history had the jitters when speaking in public.
Billionaire investor Warren Buffett is one such business leader who struggled to deliver speeches in front of crowds. At the age of 21, Buffett decided that it was time to overcome his anxiety.
He actually enrolled in a public speaking class but dropped out before it started. “I lost my nerve,” he said.
How did he face his anxieties head-on? Here are some of Buffet’s practical tips on how to manage your performance worries and become a presentation expert:
1. Look for Wholistic Inspiration
Instead of spending so much time worrying, why not look for inspiration? Motivating yourself with other people’s success stories is one way to overcome your fear.
It’s reassuring to see other people overcome the same trials.
At eight years old, Buffett discovered the book How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. One of the most important lessons he learned was this:
“Rule number one: Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain.”
How is this related to presenting ideas? According to Carnegie, “criticism puts people on the defensive,” making them more likely to defend themselves.
Imagine you’re in the middle of your pitch, and somebody in the audience counters what you’ve said. Will you go on the defensive and criticize your audience’s concerns? Or will you humbly accept the criticism and take it as a lesson learned for your future presentations?
Buffett took life advice and applied it to his fears. Taking control of his overall weaknesses allowed him to break through his self-doubt.
Improving yourself as a person also makes you a better speaker. Keep an open mind and treat all lessons as opportunities to hone your abilities.
2. Face Fear with Passion
When you’re associating with people that you love, doing what you love, it doesn’t get any better than that. – Warren Buffett
Think of something scary you’ve always wanted to try. For example, many people want to try bungee jumping at least once in their lives. Most people shy away from it because they dread heights. Should you let this keep you from doing something you’ve always wanted to do?
The same can be said about public speaking. Don’t let fear stop you from pursuing your goals.
Be realistic: What’s the worst thing that can happen if you mispronounce a word? A viewer or two may giggle, and that’s about it. The best case scenario is that nobody notices the mistake at all.
Anticipating the act is more nerve-wracking than actually doing the feat itself.
You may feel nervous waiting for your turn to go onstage, but once you step onto the podium, it’s never as bad as you thought it would be.
In the same way that Warren Buffet eventually faced his fears, you’ll only see what’s ahead of you if you stop looking away from what scares you.
3. Do What You Fear
“Practice makes perfect” is an old adage, but it’s the surefire way to master anything. In fact, a study from the University of Colorado suggested that practice accounts for an individual’s ability to improve and optimize their skills.
When presentation anxiety strikes, practice is your best friend. “You have to get out there and you have to do it. And the sooner you do it, the better,” Buffett said.
Buffett chose to sign back up for the course he once left. He needed to improve, and he realized he could only do this by practicing over and over again. Eventually, he started teaching a night course at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, wherein he taught investment principles to students twice his age.
Practicing your speech doesn’t mean memorizing it. Instead, remember the main points you want to get across, as well as the flow of the discussion. This’ll allow you to talk more naturally as well as be flexible in delivering your ideas. Reciting line by line will only stress you out, and thinking of specific words will make it harder for you to get back on track.
Becoming an effective presenter requires great skills, but what good are they if you’re afraid of showing them off in front of a crowd? That nerve-racking feeling may dent your presentation delivery, but it shouldn’t take over your life.
Don’t let your worries control you. Instead, control your fear. Let it strengthen your ability to receive criticism. Allow it to fuel your enthusiasm for sharing your message with as many people as you can.
Like Warren Buffet, inspire yourself, motivate yourself, and practice as often as you can. The more you do something that scares you, the less frightening it becomes over time.
With enough practice and determination, you may start enjoying your time speaking in front of an audience.
“5 TED Talk Secrets for Persuasive PowerPoint Presentations.” SlideGenius, Inc. April 29, 2015. Accessed May 4, 2015.
Ericsson, K. Anders, and Ralf Th Krampe. “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance.” Institute of Cognitive Science, December 1992, 3-68.
Gallo, Carmine. “How Warren Buffett And Joel Osteen Conquered Their Terrifying Fear Of Public Speaking.” Business Insider. May 16, 2013. Accessed May 4, 2015.
Schroeder, Alice. The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life. New York: Bantam, 2009.
“Self-Evaluation Guide after a PowerPoint Presentation.” SlideGenius, Inc. April 22, 2015. Accessed May 4, 2015.
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