Warren Buffet on beating fear of public speaking

Warren Buffett

When a billionaire investor reveals the secret of their success, it’s worth taking notice. So, it was fascinating to learn recently that Warren Buffett, the hugely influential business magnate, used presentation training to overcome his fear of public speaking. The CEO of conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway was talking to graduates about the importance of honing their communication skills, as a way of investing in themselves. His view is that excellent communications skills can increase your net worth by as much as 50%. So, he considered presentation training to be a shrewd investment and his net worth speaks for itself.

Buffett is not the only famous figure who has successfully overcome glossophobia – the fear of public speaking. Mahatma Gandhi struggled with what he called “the awful strain of public speaking” yet went on to become one of the most inspiring speakers of all time. More recently, actress Emma Watson admitted that she found it “utterly terrifying” preparing to give a major speech on gender equality address at the United Nations headquarters in New York in 2014 and recalled having to be “scraped off the floor” after auditioning and persuaded that she could do it.

It’s estimated that perhaps 75% of people are afraid of speaking to an audience of any size. For some this fear has roots in being forced to read aloud as a child in front of classmates or feeling embarrassed by giving a presentation or speech that fell flat. I hear often from people I train ahead of speeches, presentations and interviews that they feel confident in most other situations but something about eyeballing by a group of peers, clients or journalists sees their self-assurance dissolve into imposter syndrome.

Many people simply avoid public speaking and refuse point-blank to accept invitations, accepting that this may mean they’re less likely to be promoted or grow their professional profile. Others reluctantly accept that they have to give presentations or speeches as part of their role and it remains a source of sometimes unbearable stress, sleepless nights and corrosive self-doubt. I believe both these approaches are a tragedy because, in my experience, almost everyone can hugely improve their presentation skills and their confidence with the right training.

I’ve seen nervous, stuttering, panicky and just plain boring speakers transformed into effective communicators time and time again. It’s striking and extremely rewarding to see the pure relief, boosted confidence and sometimes the overwhelming emotion of a person who suddenly realises that they CAN speak in public without fear for the first time. Quality presentation training should focus on identifying an overarching message, developing narrative (the story) and honing delivery by controlling (not eliminating) nerves and using effective public speaking techniques to give a speech worthy of any stage. To echo Warren Buffett, investing in one’s communication skills is one of the wisest investments you’ll ever make.

Bridgid Nzekwu is Director of Media Training at TNR, part of the Press Association. She was named Outstanding Woman in Professional Services at the 2018 Precious Awards. Bridgid coaches spokespeople in business, politics and the public sector in media interview and public speaking skills and trains comms teams in media handling. She is a former Channel 4 News presenter and reporter and is a freelance anchor for ITV News.

Follow Bridgid on Twitter @BridgidNzekwu

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