Terminate Your Public Speaking Fears

How Arnold Schwarzenegger, Barbara Corcoran, and Toby Keith learned to communicate powerfully

I often get encouraging feedback from readers around the world who are inspired by the techniques and interviews in my book, 10 Simple Secrets of the World's Greatest Business Communicators. My only peeve is when I hear from readers who say: "Those techniques work for Apple's (AAPL)Steve Jobs, Cisco's (CSCO) John Chambers, eBay's (EBAY) Meg Whitman, and other CEOs, but I'm not as charismatic as those people."

That's nonsense. When they first started, those leaders were not nearly as persuasive and electrifying as they are today. They worked -- and continue to work -- on their presentation skills. But above all, they believed in themselves and their message. So should you.

During the first 100 days of the Arnold Schwarzenegger administration in California, I had the opportunity to cover the governor for CBS. This job gave me a front-row seat at Schwarzenegger's public appearances as well as access to his closest friends and advisers.

Watching Schwarzenegger speak to business groups is an amazing experience. He delivers a PowerPoint presentation with the best of them. He is highly charismatic, persuasive, and inspirational.


  But Schwarzenegger was not always that way. The comfort he enjoys on stage did not come easily. He had to apply the same discipline that catapulted him to the top of the bodybuilding world to improve his skills as a speaker. One of Schwarzenegger's friends told me that he was naturally gregarious but not a natural presenter. He had to work at it.

Just as Michael Jordan practiced harder than most of his peers to dominate basketball, Schwarzenegger approached public speaking as his next goal to achieve. After getting involved in charity work, he began to give speeches frequently, asking his staff to find him more and more opportunities. He felt he had to prepare for the next stage in his life -- and whether he became involved in directing movies, charity work, or politics, he knew public speaking skills would be essential.

Schwarzenegger says he enjoyed extraordinary success in every aspect of his life -- bodybuilding, movies, and politics -- because he always visualized his performance first. He had such a clear vision of his path that he never questioned it. In his mind, his dreams had already come true. Here's a simple fact for the rest of us -- you can start to picture yourself as a gifted speaker who moves listeners to follow you -- just like Schwarzenegger.


  Do you ever say to yourself: "I'm not charismatic, inspiring, or persuasive?" Your career has no room for those type of negative thoughts. Instead you should be thinking: "I have an extraordinary message, and my listeners will be inspired, dazzled, and moved to action!"

Barbara Corcoran is a New York City entrepreneur. She turned a $1,000 loan from a boyfriend into a $5 billion-a-year real estate empire called Corcoran Group. The boyfriend is no longer in the picture, but she is clearly doing just fine. Corcoran was not a natural public speaker early in her career, but she believed in herself and took the necessary steps to improve her speaking ability -- which included signing up to teach courses at New York University.

When I first interviewed Corcoran, she told me about the early vision she had for herself as a speaker, despite the fact that she had little experience speaking to groups. "I pictured myself in great detail, including the clothes I'd wear to address an audience of thousands of people eager to hear my expert advice," she told me.


  "My imagination provided a crystal-clear picture of where I wanted to go." Corcoran didn't just succeed in speaking to thousands, she underestimated herself. Today she speaks to hundreds of thousands on the lecture circuit and as a contributor to network television shows.

Toby Keith is one of the hottest acts in country music. But when he started, executives at one record label told Keith that he couldn't write or sing and literally shoved him out the door of their offices.

Keith told a friend of his: "You'll pay to see me sing one day." He created a vision for himself so powerful that nobody could stop it from happening. It was only a matter of time before his vision became a reality.

In much the same way, the success of your presentations will be the direct result of the vision you have of yourself. Create a vision of a powerful and persuasive presenter, so charismatic and convincing that your listeners cannot help but believe in your message. Remember, when you change the way you see yourself as a speaker, the speaker your audience sees will also change.

Thank you for supporting these columns and passing them along to your colleagues. It's very gratifying to hear from many of you. If you have ideas for future columns or suggestions for profiles of great business leaders, please contact me directly at I would enjoy hearing from you.

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