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Graham Sherman says public speaking is liberating.Handout

The first time someone asked Graham Sherman – a former government worker-turned beer industry entrepreneur – to deliver a keynote address, he was very reluctant.

A mortgage company representative heard about the dramatic journey Mr. Sherman took to open his brewery, which at one point had him on the edge of financial collapse.

“He said, ‘come down to Arizona and tell us how you did it,’” Mr. Sherman recalls. “And I remember saying, ‘I’m not a speaker. I’m a brewer.’”

Mr. Sherman, a former military IT contractor in Afghanistan, quit his stable government gig a decade ago to start Tool Shed Brewing Company with his business partner. It was a tough go at first: Faced with archaic provincial liquor laws with minimum production quotas that essentially stifled craft breweries in Alberta, they couldn’t get a licence to sell their small-batch brew.

Unable to sell their beer in Alberta and with mortgages to pay, Tool Shed began producing beer in neighbouring B.C., shipping it back to Alberta for sale (legal under the rules at the time), and began lobbying. In late 2012, the province undertook a policy review, and the rules changed the next year.

While used to recounting the origin story to small crowds during brewery tours, Mr. Sherman wasn’t convinced he was public speaker material. He took the Arizona gig anyway.

Since then, Mr. Sherman has travelled widely to present his inspirational David-and-Goliath-of-lagers tale to everyone from bankers to real estate professionals to doctors. Pre-pandemic, he spent an entire year on the speaker circuit, and he is booked solid from July to December to do so again.

“It’s liberating,” he says of public speaking. “I think when you honestly talk to people – and all of a sudden you see the looks on people’s faces, who are connecting with you on a very emotional level – you see most people are striving to achieve something, and everybody’s scared.”

There’s a misconception that extroverts are better public speakers than introverts, but that’s not necessarily the case, says Lauren Ferraro, a Toronto-based public speaking and presentation coach.

“We think speaking in public is this thing that you’ve got to be big and loud … but people have got to care about what you’re saying,” says Ms. Ferraro, who has worked with a wide range of clients from priests and pilots to financiers and real estate professionals.

She says public speaking is mostly about connecting with an audience.

“Some of the most moving, captivating talks are just when someone’s right in front of you, just chit-chatting and telling you a very humble story,” adds Ms. Ferraro, who acknowledges she’s not one to get up on a stage unbidden. She gets on stage, when necessary, with something to say and a plan for saying it.

“You work with where you’re at and who you are. That’s the key.”

Her main piece of advice for the reluctant presenter? Don’t wing it.

“You are going to send your anxiety through the roof,” she says, which will impact the presentation.

Instead, prepare well in advance: Know how much time you have to present and the points you want to make; organize and edit what you want to say. She recommends working with a coach, if possible, and using technology only if it will enhance your presentation, not as a crutch.

Also, be yourself – and don’t worry if what you’ve prepared isn’t perfect.

“This notion of professionalism has put us into a robotic sense of presentations: ‘I have to be professional; I have to have all these slides, I have to be…,’” Ms. Ferraro says.

“It’s this pressure to be so perfect and professional in the workplace. I’m not saying get up there with a drink and a cigarette in your hand. But we’ve got to lose this idea that you’re not allowed to say, ‘Hey everyone, good morning, how are you?’”

For some people, reluctance to give a presentation at work or do public speaking is more than a run-of-the-mill fear, says Narges Nirumvala, founder and CEO of Vancouver-based ExecutiveSpeak Coaching International.

She recommends people with public speaking anxiety, whether they’re considered introverts or extroverts, consider talking to therapists for some help.

“The fear and anxiety that people assume holds an introvert back, I think it holds all of us back,” Ms. Nirumvala says. “I’m an extrovert and I’ve experienced anxiety. I’ve experienced panic attacks. And I’ve overcome them with therapy. I highly recommend that we normalize talking about these things and get help if we need it.”

Also, practise presenting; even the most reluctant presenters can become comfortable in front of a crowd, Ms. Nirumvala says.

“The more you do something, the less afraid you are. I always advise people to take every opportunity they can to become uncomfortable, confront that fear and speak up,” she says.

Also, set incremental goals, even a few minutes of speaking at a team meeting, and you will see growth, she says. The response will be positive and that positive feedback loop will make it easier every time.

“I have people who’ve admitted to me that they’ve turned things down because they’re afraid of speaking, or more importantly, afraid of being in the spotlight,” Ms. Nirumvala says. “The higher up you get, the more that spotlight will shine on you … and you need to push through and not limit your potential.”

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