A Journey Into Public Speaking

Posted: February 2, 2015 in Leadership
Tags: , , , , ,

microphoneI’ve heard that for most people, their second greatest fear in life is dying; with the fear of public speaking being their first.

This makes perfect sense to me, because for the longest time I was in that lot!

Thankfully there was hope… and a solution!

Actually, there were several solutions, and this of course began with information. Information was not enough though, because the truth is activity conquers fear. The information I went through on how to be a better speaker gave me the courage to speak, but it was the actual speaking that helped diminish the fear.

If you’re someone who has fear of people of public speaking, or just wants some tips on being better, this story is for you. I’m going to go through what I did, and some pointers that I think will really help.

My journey began with information from Life Leadership’s Public Speaking pack of 4 CDs, which I must have listened to 7 or 8 times, and the book “Splash: A Leaders Guide to Effective Pubic Speaking.”

What I learned from these were the principles that make a good speech, and a good speaker.

The first was being prepared. In “Splash”, it talks about continuing to learn and reading great books, which help keep you knowledgeable on the subject matter of which you may one day speak. It also means actually preparing your speeches, especially if you’re new to speaking.

I definitely needed to do this! Other than an oral I did in my grade 9 french class, which I will talk about later, I would spend half my talk just staring at everyone if I didn’t first prepare my speech. When I was talking, I would be stumbling over my words and mixing things up.

Here are a few other pointers to keep in mind that I got from the CDs and book (I highly recommend you go through the materials yourself to understand all the principles with the reasoning behind them and great examples)

  • Smile! (there are exceptions to this obviously, but you should generally be doing this)
  • Be Excited! (if you don’t seem to care, don’t expect anyone who is listening to care either)
  • Fluctuate your tone, emphasize your points (or you will bore the audience and put them to sleep!)
  • Look at your audience (makes your voice clearer, and grabs their attention)
  • Speak loudly (make sure your heard clearly!)
  • Don’t fidget (it’s ok to be nervous, but don’t look nervous… it will just make you more nervous!)
  • Don’t move around without purpose (it’s distracting)
  • Don’t be a statue either (move and use your body to emphasize your points)
  • Pace yourself (don’t speak too fast; your points will be missed)
  • Practice the speech in advance and know the material
    • Don’t worry about mesmerizing the speech, just the important points
  • Relax, know that you know the main points (It’s not important to say it exactly like you wrote it.)
    • It’s ok to leave things out and add things in the middle of the speech.
  • Be humorous if possible (but make sure it’s relevant to the speech)

Once I knew all this, it didn’t make me a good speaker, nor did it eliminate my fears. It was the first step I needed though…

My suggestion (and the suggestion of all decent public speaking books) is to find somewhere to speak in front of groups and practice. This works best when done in real life situations – not just practicing among friends (but that is not a bad start!)

Last August, at the suggestion of my mentor, I joined a toastmasters group. This organisation is an amazing place to practice, because not only does it allow you speak in front of groups, but you get feedback on your speeches; everyone fills out a small form that lets you know what you did well, and where you can improve.

To show how much being prepared can help you, I did 10 speeches and got my Competent Communicator certificate in 4 months (I heard it might be a record for this particular club)

For me this was pretty close to real presentations, because each of my speeches was about subjects I was studying, and on information I wanted to share with people. I gave talks on the 5 love languages, the different personalities, better finances, and of course on freedom (which is NOT easy to do in 7 minutes! :))

One of the reasons I think real presentations are best is because you will be at your best. I think the most important thing is knowing your material and being passionate about it. This makes the speech so much easier, and much less frightening. This will make your performance better, and boost your confidence even more; making the next speech even easier.

I don’t know if it’s the same for the rest of you, but one of the things that really frightened me about speaking was making a mistake, and worrying about what others would think of me. What made things easier for me was simple in the end; I made sure I didn’t have to worry about making a mistake!

The last 10 speeches I gave were on subjects that I was passionate about. I organized the speech to fit the time frame I had (for the most part…), and memorized the main points I wanted to cover. When it came time to speak, I just started talking; saying whatever came to my mind next.

Not one of my speeches came out exactly as I wrote them, but other than the nervousness before starting it was fairly easy. Since I was well prepared by knowing the subject matter, I knew it didn’t matter if I remembered what I had written down; I knew whatever I ended up saying would still be appropriate.

So if you want to have a good speech, talk about what you are passionate about, and most of your problems are solved. You will naturally speak more enthusiastically about it, and you will know a lot about the subject too; after all, you’re not likely to be passionate about something you don’t know about!

You don’t have to passionate about the subject though, it just helps a lot! All my orals in school were boring and painful, for both me and the audience, with on exception; my grade 9 french oral (I’m pretty sure it was grade 9 anyway…)

I was supposed to do an oral on a vacation I went on, but I never prepared it; I was really good at procrastinating too long! One day, the teacher calls my name to do the oral, and I hadn’t even thought about it yet! I was lucky though, because we were told that it doesn’t have to be a real vacation; we can make on up. Not having anything prepared, I started like most of my other orals, but then I just started talking. I didn’t have to worry about remembering anything, so I just said whatever came to my mind.

I started talking about going to Germany, and proceeded with whatever crazy thought entered my mind. The thoughts that came out included being mugged by a one armed and one legged man who chased me down a street! People were laughing like crazy, including the teacher, and I spoke very easily. I probably made lots of French mistakes, but it was also the best grade I ever got on an oral; probably because the teacher was so busy laughing that she couldn’t notice the grammatical errors. 🙂

The point, is that if you are not trying to follow a script words will come easily. So even after you prepare your speech, do two things when you go out to speak. First, leave the notes behind; if you have them, you keep trying to remember exactly what’s on them and they will hold you back. Second, just say whatever you feel is important to say; if you prepared properly you don’t have to worry about having anything memorized.

Being a better speaker is simple. Learn how, be prepared, and practice.

Now you know; and knowing is half the battle!

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