When you look at Richard Branson delivering a speech you see a confident, highly successful entrepreneur who is at the top of his game.
What you don’t see is what is going on inside his head. By his own admission he doesn’t like making speeches:
“I loathe making speeches, and always have. I deliver a lot of them these days, but it’s almost as true today as it was when I first spoke in public as a student some 50-odd years ago.”
This statement may come as a surprise to you! It’s universally acknowledged that Richard Branson’s success is largely down to his mastery of PR. Never one to shun the limelight, he’s always in front of a crowd somewhere, addressing them in speech. Given that, you would probably assume that he must love doing it!
“Quite apart from the nervousness, I have never particularly enjoyed public speaking. And as is the case with everything else that I haven’t particularly enjoyed doing, for a long time I didn’t do it terribly well. Over the years, however, I have become much more practiced at giving speeches, though it still makes me a bit nervous.”
So what’s going on here?
Well, in common with a lot of other famous speakers, Richard gets nervous, but does it anyway! Instead of running away from it, he confronts it, deals with it, and as a result, prospers from it. It could be argued that this one thing is the most significant element of his success.
Fear of public speaking is a perfectly normal phenomenon. Most, if not all people get nervous. There’s something deep in the human psyche that triggers it. But Richard Branson, like many successful people got past that. How did he do it?
He cites 3 key strategies that have been helpful to him and that he still uses today.
Richard likes to quote Mark Twain for inspiration:
“Impromptu speaking – that is a difficult thing . I used to begin about a week ahead, and write out my impromptu speech and get it by heart.”
Think about that one next time you see him speaking ‘off the cuff’!
Practising your speech or presentation is one of the key areas where most people can improve. Practising doesn’t mean sitting at your desk and reading through your notes, it means actually standing up and saying the words out loud!
“I found that if you practise, practise, practise, then practise some more, that will gradually mitigate the fear of public speaking, no matter how debilitating”
Use your imagination
Richard likes to use his imagination to remove himself from the apparent reality of the situation and try to imagine himself in a much smaller, more intimate, less intimidating situation.
“When you need to speak in front of a crowd, close your mind to the fact that you’re on a stage with hundreds of people watching you and instead imagine yourself in a situation where you’d be comfortable speaking to a group. For example, imagine that you’re in your dining room at home, telling a story to friends over dinner. I know it sounds a little corny, but try it. This trick has certainly removed some of the anxiety for me.”
Even when you’re speaking to a large crowd, public speaking is ultimately about two human beings connecting – the speaker and the listener. Accomplished speakers like Richard Branson are practised masters of the art, but it’s something that anyone can do with a bit of determined learning and practice!
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