Sunday, January 15, 2012

There are no tricks for public speaking

The idea of imagining your audience naked seems to be the most common advice for those who hate public speaking. The next thing you hear about public speaking is that everyone is terrified of it. So you're left standing in front of a group of people trying to imagine them naked and trying to forget how scared you are. The third thing on your mind is that the audience can't tell what you're thinking.

The problem with all this is that your actual speech is fourth on the list. This leaves you wondering what on Earth you even said when you're done. I've been there more than once but I must admit I've never bothered trying to imagine my audience naked.

I used to be a very shy person. I talked so quietly that I had to repeat myself constantly. I rarely shared my opinion without being asked for it. Part of getting over that was gaining confidence and realizing I had something worthwhile to say. Realizing that other people want to actually hear what I had to say really helped. Whenever I speak in front of an audience, I keep in mind that someone out there actually really wants to listen to what I have to say.

I was required to take a public speaking class to get my business degree. I may not have agreed with all the classes I had to take but public speaking was essential. In business classes, you're either writing a case analysis or giving a speech. I don't remember every detail in that class but what stood out for me was the first day when we sat in a circle and talked about our fears in public speaking. The strangest thing about it was our similarities. Some of the group had embarrassing stories but mostly everyone just talked about the same fears. Everyone hated it and was very afraid of it. This made me really see how similar I am to everyone else. After that day, when I gave a speech, I remembered that every person in the audience feels just as afraid as I do about public speaking.

The next thing that helped from that class was being forced to watch videos of our own speeches. That was more painful than giving the speech itself. I didn't have a VCR and I had to watch my speeches at the library with a room of other people watching things on little TVs. I was so terrified someone would notice that I was watching myself on tape and say something. Despite all that, it made me really see what areas I needed to improve on.

The tips that this breaks down into are: 1 - Keep in mind that you have a willing audience that wants to hear what you have to say. 2 - Everyone else is just as afraid as you are. 3 - Watching yourself is the fastest path to improvement.