For payments professionals, presentations are part of the job. From merchant level sales people calling on merchants day to day, to C-suite executives negotiating strategic acquisitions, to countless people filling essential roles in between, the industry is full of individuals who know how to make their case with eloquence and care.
Some people in payments easily transition to making presentations on stage in front of hundreds of peers. For others, going from a comfortable conversation with a handful of people to speaking to a large audience from a podium is akin to trying to leap across the grand canyon. Yes, even for a seasoned salesperson, public speaking can cause heartburn.
Thus, many people who have valuable industry experience never step up to share it. Fear of public speaking keeps them frozen in the audience.
According to Theo Tsaousides Ph.D., four factors contribute to this fear: physiology, thoughts, situations and skills. Regarding physiology, Tsaousides wrote, "Fear and anxiety involve the arousal of the autonomic nervous system in response to a potentially threatening stimulus." For some, this means preparing for battle; for others it means swiftly leaving the scene; for some it means freezing in their tracks. What happens to us at such times is a mixture of our prior experiences and genetic propensities.
In discussing thoughts, Tsaousides wrote that thoughts come from our beliefs. "[F]ear often arises when people overestimate the stakes of communicating their ideas in front of others, viewing the speaking event as a potential threat to their credibility, image, and chance to reach an audience," he wrote. He added that negative views of oneself as a speaker can also raise anxiety.
When it comes to situations, some provoke more anxiety than others. Two examples of high-stress situations are if a degree or certification hinges on your performance and if the current audience is significantly different from the type of people you normally interact with.
Skills pertain to how well you've mastered the area in question. While most payments professionals are naturally talented communicators, if you have only cursory knowledge of a technology you're called upon to lecture about, for example, you could run into trouble.
One thing that can improve your public speaking across the board is to shift the focus away from yourself. It isn't about you; it's about communicating to others in an effort to help them. The more you remember this, the easier a speech or panel will be for you.
Also, there are tools to explore to bring yourself into a calm state. Deep breathing, yoga and meditation are just a few. Searching the internet and asking your healthcare provider for possible tools will provide plenty of leads. In addition, it helps to identify negative thoughts about public speaking that enter your mind. Just bringing them to light is sometimes enough for you to see they are not based in current reality.
Ultimately, all factors contributing to fear of public speaking can be mitigated with preparation, practice and help from your colleagues. Toastmasters is a great resource for this. Someday you may stand at the podium alone, but you don't have to get there alone.
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