I am always surprised when I hear people say, ‘Oh, I’m terrible at public speaking!’ ‘I could never do that!’ And I ask, ‘Oh, really? How many speeches have you given? How long have you been learning? How many coaches have you had?’
Of course, like anything, you may be a natural speaker with a natural inclination to be ‘in the spotlight’. I am sure you know someone who loves the spotlight, who is naturally confident at a podium. This person requests opportunities to speak in front of colleagues, to give a speech at a wedding.
But if this is not the case, it’s not a deal breaker. It is the most common misconception regarding public speaking: Everyone thinks it is an inborn trait. By no means, is some kind of ‘natural ability’ a prerequisite for learning how to speak in front of others. Anyone can be taught to be a wonderful speaker and the basics can be taught very quickly.
Think about it: No one expects a child to be a born football player. They expect the child will get training, from several coaches, over many years. What if you’re not a math whiz? It’s not as if you can’t balance your checkbook, right? No, you just learn it.
Why is it not the same with public speaking? I want to show you how easily you can develop this skill. Let’s get started!
Step 1: Start from a place of fun
Wonderful! Public speaking is your new hobby! Or maybe you want to call it ‘guilty pleasure’ or ‘something I have always wanted to do.’ This is key: Use whichever term sounds the most fun to you. If you call it ‘Conquering your Fear’ then you are fighting an uphill battle. Why start from a place of fear? Start from a place of fun!
Step 2: Just a bit of practice, makes a big difference
The next key point: Public speaking is not only done at a podium. In fact, it is my fervent belief that ‘public speaking’ happens when you express yourself. At any moment that you form an argument in a conversation, raise an idea in a meeting, or gather with any group of people, you have an opportunity to speak.
The more you speak, your brain will say, ‘Oh yes, we’ve done this before. Not so scary now.’ Your voice becomes stronger, more confident, your ideas and arguments clearer and more concise.
I fully understand that your heart is pounding, your pulse is racing, you just broke out in a cold sweat, everyone is looking at you, all eyes are on you AHhhhhhhhh! Stop. Don’t panic. This is just a sign that you haven’t done this often enough lately. I promise the racing heartbeat and sweaty hands are only signs of lack of practice. It will get easier.
And yes, it is like going to the gym. You need to do it consistently to get the most out of it.
Step 3: Take every opportunity
Here are some ways you can start speaking today:
- Raise a glass to your friends and thank them for finding time to get together.
- At a family dinner, thank your parents for being so helpful.
- In a work meeting, make a point to clarify or confirm a point on your action list.
- Tell a funny story about your kids at the PTA meeting.
- Stand in church to recognize and welcome a new visitor.
- Introduce yourself to the person standing next to you in line at the grocery store.
Okay, you’re started! Yes, in a very fun and exhilarating way, you are stretching yourself.
Later, I’ll tell you what comes next, but for now, just open up, stand up and when you feel your heart racing, speak anyway!