Thursday, April 21, 2011

Tech founders, Overcome your fear of public speaking (ask Mark Zuckerberg at President Obama's live townhall at Facebook HQs)

A great American comedian said that, during a funeral, most people prefer to be in the casket than reading the eulogy before the audience. Statistics show that up to 75% of people suffer from social phobia such as fear of public speaking.

The majority of tech founders with whom I work confirm this fear. It was confirmed by Mark Zuckerberg's stage fright at yesterday's townhall meeting with President Obama at the Facebook Headquarters.

Whether a presentation to an audience of ten or a hundred, public speaking can be scary to founders, who are otherwise extremely competent. However, there are certain steps that the founders can take to feel at ease during a presentation.

Stage fright is a natural reaction that can be tamed before and during your presentation. Convinced that what you say is interesting and relevant, it must tell you that the public needs you to get an understanding of the subject matter.

The use of notes may also help calm your nerves. They give you confidence and the feeling of having a safety net because you can always take a glance to keep you on track, especially if you pause for questions or give examples. However, they must be short and focused - to remind you to address key points.

The biggest traitor to nerves is to talk too fast. The solution is to take breaks. The best oratorical style, from the public's perspective, is to speak at a normal speed, but with lots of breaks. If you do so effectively, the breaks seem unbearably long for you, but the public does not even notice them.

Once you've practiced and mastered the breaks you need to work on eye contact. You can greatly reduce the effect of a large audience on edge if you look at people in the audience one person at a time while talking.

Finally, and most importantly, do not be afraid to be yourself. Smile, keep eye contact and give yourself the feeling of being in a conversation and you will feel more relaxed.

Many founders are perhaps not born orators, but that does not mean they cannot become good presenters. Remember, the audience is on your side, and controlling your nerves in the short term will help you make presentations that are natural and professional.