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Butterflies in the Stomach: Aerodynamics of Public Speaking

Posted by Herman Najoli on October 16, 2007

Have you ever experienced the anxiety that comes with the task of speaking in public? Even the most seasoned communicators have experienced this. This phenomenon has been referred to as “having butterflies in the stomach”. I have come to love these “butterflies in the stomach”. I never know when they will start flying but I’m always thrilled about them. They are scary yet they symbolize opportunity – the opportunity to go beyond my personal limitations and do something worth remembering. This becomes particularly important when speaking in public. I want to be so used up after each speech so that they will literally carry me off the stage. I think a speaker is a performer. Like an athlete, he or she needs to be spent at the end of the performance. But that’s a completely different topic. Let me give you five strategies for training your butterflies to fly in formation. I call these the aerodynamics of public speaking because it’s about training those butterflies to fly in formation.

1. Select exciting topics

This is very basic and fundamental to speaking. Your topic has to appeal to the audience’s interests and senses. A good speaker can make any topic exciting but a boring topic cannot make a good speaker exciting. Careful choice of speaking topic is therefore essential to moving your audience.

2. Build your knowledge

Once you have chosen your topic, you need to study widely and deeply. A knowledgeable speaker who has done his or her research well is usually more interesting than one who hasn’t. Building your knowledge also includes learning about your audience. What are their interests? Where are they in life? What are they trying to accomplish?

3. Develop some visual aids

Visual aids help in enabling you to come across as a professional and utilizing all the senses of your audience. You can use items like charts, graphs. powerpoint presentations, overhead projectors, models and many other different objects. The use of visual aids also encourages you to gesture and gesturing enables you to maintain composure.

4. Master your message

You master your message by practicing it. Practice makes permanent. The more you practice, the more permanent the skill of speaking will become to you. As you master your message you become comfortable with speaking. Your expectations arise and your butterflies begin to fly at your command.

5. Love your audience

Expect your audience to like you. Go in with a belief that they will be attentive and will respond positively to you. Smile. Be confident. Visualize yourself being successful. Be at ease with talking to your audience. Audiences are not your enemies, they are friends. Enjoy getting to know your audience as you speak to them.

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2 Responses to “Butterflies in the Stomach: Aerodynamics of Public Speaking”

  1. Ronnie Ann said

    This is one of the things I’ve yet to overcome – mostly from not putting myself in the situation again. I used to act and was able to see the butterflies as something good – an internal excitement and energy that I could channel into my performance. But when I spoke in public as me – not some character in a play – my knees got weak and I felt fear rise up – fear that I just couldn’t seem to channel the same way. I’ve learned that a lot of it for me is about learning to just be comfortable with myself, no matter what anyone thinks. And I’m working on that. the rest…well your tips will serve me well the next time I try. Thanks for a great post!

  2. Shirley said

    Hi, Herman

    This is a good post. I’ve been a public speaker for many years now, and I have never rid myself of the butterflies. And of course I have been told that a certain amount of anxiety about speaking is normal–and really a good thing. But I have really struggled with this–dry mouth, etc.

    Many years ago when I first started speaking and mentioned my great fear to a friend who also was a speaker, she said, “You know that’s pride, don’t you?”

    “Pride?” I stammered, for I felt anything except pride.

    But the more I have thought about her statement, the more I believe she is right. For I want to be perceived as a good speaker, knowledgeable..etc. and in the throes of the speaking, I stand exposed, “naked” if you will…for others to judge.

    I much prefer writing, for then I can perfect (to some degree and according to my ability and time invested)my project. I can erase, choose a better word, move around paragraphs…etc. You get the picture.

    Having said that and admitting to the pride involved, I do believe some struggle with this more than others, simply because of their personalities. I don’t think it will ever be easy for me, but extensive preparation helps me a lot. If I am totally sure of my message, I do better…but still gulp and need a glass of water. 🙂

    Great post.

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