There are lots of tricks to help people overcome their fear of public speaking, but according to communications expert Brett Rutledge, the key is to practice. “Prepare. The more you know your material, the more likely you are to overcome nerves,” he says.
Rutledge knows his way around a podium. In 1998, he became the youngest World Champion of Public Speaking and one of only five to hold the title outside North America.
And while mortgage brokers don’t need to be elite communicators to give great seminars, it does help to learn a few tips from the best.
Dealing with nerves
According to studies, the most commonly reported social phobia is public speaking. Mortgage brokers talk to people for a living, but most of that communication is face to face. Stepping in front of an audience, whether they are potential clients or a group of your peers, can be a nerve-wracking experience for anyone.
But it’s okay to have a little anxiety. Experts say that being a little nervous is actually a good thing. It can give your presentation a little more energy and help you avoid sounding like you’re droning through a lecture that you’ve given a hundred times before.
Judith Field, founder of Direct Speech, agrees that practice makes perfect. “This is obvious, but most people spend 90% of their time writing their presentation and 10% practicing. It should be 50:50.” She suggests that you practice as if you’re in front of a real audience. And remember to breathe deeply and fill your lungs with air, she says. The increased flow of oxygen will calm you down and help you focus.
And lastly, she suggests you get rid of the voice in your head. “This is the most important tip. It means you are acknowledging the fear and deciding to let it go. As a result, you can focus on what you are delivering and not things like, ‘they are all looking at me’ or ‘what if I go blank?’ ”
Understanding how communication works will give you a good foundation on which to build your speaking skills. Rutledge says it boils down to four ingredients: the audience has to understand you; agree with you; care about the message; and take action. “All four things have to be there for you to be effective,” he says.
It’s also incredibly important to present people with facts, emotions and symbols together. He explains: “No one gives a toss what an interest rate is; they care what it means to their mortgage.” So while it’s important to give people factual information, you also need to explain what it means to them.
And when it comes to emotions, Rutledge says brokers should both understand the feelings of the people they are talking to, as well as sharing their own. “If you want people to be excited, you’ve got to be excited yourself,” he adds.
Acting too professional can actually work against you. If you try to hide your emotions people will assume you either don’t care, you’re up to something, or both, Rutledge says. “During the financial crisis, every broker should have been telling their customers how frustrated they were,” he adds, by way of example.
And as for symbols, brokers need to tell their audience a story, as it gives people a way to remember what the message is.
According to Rutledge, Cate Blanchett is an academy award-winning actress because she doesn’t look like she’s acting. But for the layperson, focusing too much on skill and technique can really become a problem.
“Most people are not that skilled,” he says. “But that’s okay, as long as you’re just yourself. That’s the only thing you can pull off with any credibility.”
He cautions brokers to be genuine in trying to help people with the information they’re providing. People will respond much more warmly to you if you’re not trying to sell them anything. And while no one expects you to be a comedian, humor is an effective element of communication.
“There’s a place for humor in everything,” Rutledge says, “even at a funeral.” Not only is it a great way of learning, but it shows people that you’re human. But the key to humor is to make it relevant – don’t tell a joke just for the sake of it. A better way is to incorporate humor through a story. A little self-deprecation is also effective.
“I often say that the fastest way to make friends is to make fun of yourself,” Rutledge says. And at the end of the day, content matters more than delivery, and good structure will save poor delivery.
“When a mortgage broker gets up in front of an audience, they know it’s not what they do for a living,” Rutledge says.
The best way to keep the presentation running smoothly is to save question time for the end. If you take the time during the presentation to answer specific queries, you risk losing the other members of the audience. Some brokers choose to serve light refreshments at the end of the presentation, which gives people a chance to come and chat afterwards. That also gives the broker an opportunity to answer questions, and perhaps a chance to better win them over as a client.
Experts recommend that presenters stay calm if the information they’re presenting is challenged, and to thank the audience member for raising the question or comment. And in the face of criticism, presenters should resist the temptation to become defensive and argumentative. When challenged, try to find some common ground with the person – this will help you appear open minded.
According to Rutledge, handout material is also better saved to the end. Giving people fact sheets and information beforehand opens the door to “cognitive overload”, he says. “The brain tends to choose the visual over the audio.”
And the last thing you want is for people to be hung up on the spelling mistake on page three, rather than listening to what you’re saying. PowerPoint presentations can also be distracting, Rutledge says, and recommends keeping the information per slide to a minimum.
And lastly, how do you avoid the biggest distraction of all? Picture all the attendees fully-clothed.
Unless you’re planning on speaking at a nudist camp, imagining your audience naked is probably not going to help you give a great seminar.