Have you ever heard people saying, “I have no problem in public speaking”? when they speak. That same person probably has no issue speaking in a meeting or presiding over a meeting over the internet. I was one of those people; I did not have any issues running meetings, giving presentations at work, or participating in round table discussions. However, not too long ago, I was asked to make an announcement to a group of people that I did not know. I was confident enough to stand up and take the microphone, but as soon as I stood there, my heart started beating fast and furious, boom, boom, boom. My face started sweating and my voice was shutting down. Has anything like that ever happened to you? You may have different symptoms, like feeling nervous, hesitant, scared, nauseous, or generally feel a lack of confidence. Different people react in different ways when it comes to speaking in front of a group of people. This is perfectly natural. It is a common problem; it does not make you weird. Many communication studies have found that public speaking is the number one fear. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld even made a joke about it: “Fear of public speaking is the number one fear, and death is lower down the list. This means that people would rather die than give the eulogy at the funeral.”
The fact that you are reading this article puts you ahead of the curve. When we listen to speakers like Steve Jobs, Dr. Martin Luther King, Tony Robbins, Brian Tracy, Winston Churchill, etc. we are amazed; it feels like they are talking directly to us, not at us. Typically, speeches should have a more conversational tone and make sure the audience is present in the talk. You might think the people mentioned above have a natural talent for public speaking, but you are absolutely wrong. They all went through the hardship of learning this skill. Just like swimming or riding a bike, speaking in public is a skill that can be learned.
Of course, you can learn it too. Take a look at Steve Jobs’s first TV interview with CNN in 1978 (available on YouTube). He was so nervous that he asked the station crew where the restroom was, so he could run there to throw up. He was nervous just like many of us are; he developed his speaking skills over time. He is the greatest corporate story teller in recent history. He prepared and practiced his speeches for hours. At some point, he even stopped using a teleprompter or notecards because after so many hours of practice, he was flawless during his delivery. He always had 3 main parts in his speech for his audience and made sure his speeches had 3 components: information, inspiration, and entertainment. He frequently talked about how his vision adapted to changes around the world. What makes you and me different? Bestselling author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Stephen R. Covey introduced a pathway to find your voice that requires a new mind-set in his book The 8th Habit. Your voice is a unique personal story as illustrated in the picture below, which is from Covey’s book.
Follow these simple techniques to learn new skills to find your own meaningful picture:
First, get the fear out of your heart.
Fear is our biggest enemy. It is natural to be afraid; it’s how species have survived on this earth. One of the great speakers of our time, Steve Jobs, in his earlier life felt the same about speaking. Steve jobs practiced for hours and hours to become comfortable on the stage. It is a matter of practice, and over time you will overcome your stage fear. The only way to deal with this type of fear is to face it head on, so you need to seek out ways to speak in front of groups that are encouraging and non-threatening. Remember that the best way to stay strong is to be well prepared, so think about what you want to say, how you want to say it, and practice in the mirror or with friends or family before you get up in front of that group. One group that is very suitable for such a purpose is Toastmasters, but you might have other groups in your area as well.
Second, be ready to learn.
The world around us changing so fast, we cannot keep track of everything. Maybe you remember the days when we relied on land line phones at home for our primary source of communication over long distances. We were amazed when we could start using flip phones. We then quickly moved on to smartphones and now many people do not even have a traditional land line anymore. It has almost become second nature to us to embrace all the new technologies and constantly learn new and improved features. For some reason, however, we are more reluctant to learn and change when it comes to developing new skills, such as, for example, speaking and writing skills. We are unwilling to play around with different techniques and try things out to see how they feel to us when it comes to speaking, even though we are comfortable doing so when it comes to learning about new technologies. Ask yourself why that is the case and make a commitment to yourself to change that mindset.
How quickly do you want to master your learning curve? This depends on your investment of time and money. Do not expect to go to a speaking bootcamp and walk out an A+ speaker. It does not happen that way. Malcolm Gladwell discusses the 10,000 hour-rule in his New York Times best seller Outliers, citing it as the “magic number of greatness.” He emphasized the need for practice and hard work. Talent alone will not make you great, you need to give time and put in a large effort for at least 10 years before you become a master. In the sports world, this concept is easily recognizable. For example, Michael Jordan did not get selected for his basketball team during his high school. Instead of blaming anyone, after crying in his bedroom for days, he took responsibility on his own and spent hours in the gym to become a great player while his friends were doing other fun things. True dedication leads to greatness, but it will not come unless you put in the work.
Third, associate yourself with other speakers and get involved.
Join a community, because if you are spending time with like-minded people, you will gain skills and confidence much faster. These communities will offer plenty of resources and healthy feedback. There are many commercial or non-commercial organizations. One of my mentors at Accenture, Brian G., mentioned Dale Carnegie for my strategy consulting work. He believed in me and encouraged me to take the Dale Carnegie public speaking course. However, if you cannot afford to spend too much money, look into joining a non-profit public speaking organization like Toastmasters, or other community outreach programs in your areas. Your local library might offer meetings free of charge. I am a member of Toastmasters, but I wish I would have found this organization many years ago, when I was younger. I found so many mentors within this organization, and I enjoy being part of it, have honed my skills, and have made many good friends. If you join Toastmasters, do not limit yourself to the club meetings, but start going to conferences and get involved in other activities. I strongly recommend you go through at least three stages in your learning journey:
a) Stage 1: Peer Level (Seek opportunities)
Get comfortable at your club level. Club members are your peers. Try to attend regular meeting so you can work towards your 10,000 hours. While you are actively participating in your group, you are practicing your speaking skills and learning how to evaluate other people’s speeches as well.
b) Stage 2: Learning Environment (Forward looking)
Participate in related conferences. Many of the speakers at special events or conferences are way ahead of you. In the Toastmasters world, they have District Conferences as well as a World Conference, where the World Championship of Public Speaking showcases the best speakers from across the globe. You do not have to know all of the champions, but by studying some of their speeches online, you will start enjoying the art of public speaking and get inspired. You will find your own voice by learning from leaders of the past as well as today.
c) Stage 3: Mentor (Cultivate new talent)
Sign up to become a mentor and volunteer. Toastmasters has a lot of activities that teach you skills that you do not get to learn from your work or other activities. You should spend time mentoring others. There is a double reward in this, because you feel good about sharing your knowledge with others, but you also learn more yourself when teaching others.
There are many more skills involved in public speaking, but the ones mentioned here are the main foundation that can apply to learning any new skills. I hope this blog is helpful for you, and I encourage you to keep learning so you can find your own voice. Our book will also help you on this journey, and we hope that you will check it out when it is available. We welcome any feedback you may have for us to make improvements for future readers.