Did you go to a class or group to learn how to speak well in public? I am trying to start my own business and need to speak to advertise at different groups and I get violently ill. Not a good trait for an entrepreneur! I’ve attended your seminars at conventions and wonder how you started with public speaking. -Lisa
Hi, Lisa! Can I just encourage you that I know almost exactly how you feel?
In fact, it’s really quite comical that I (of all people!) am answering a question on public speaking. You see, ten or twelve years ago, public speaking would have been first on my list of “Things I Dread With a Vengeance”.
The handful of times I had to do a tiny little bit of public speaking in the first 21 years of my life, I was absolutely paralyzed with fear ahead of time. I’d be sick to my stomach. Not able to sleep. Not able to think about much else — for weeks before each little speaking gig! And each of those handful of times I got up to give my little speech, it was very poorly executed and I was visibly shaken.
After I got married, I decided I’d avoid public speaking if at all possible since I loathed it so much. This stance worked pretty well for about seven years. And I figured that, as it stood, I was on track to being able to pretty much always avoid having to make a fool of myself in front of a crowd again.
Facing My Most Dreaded Fear
But that all changed about three and a half years ago. I was asked to speak on a panel at a blogging conference. I love blogging and talking about marketing and blog strategy, so the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I didn’t think a panel would be all that bad. So I said “yes” — even though it was outside my comfort zone.
Three months later, I found I was slated for the panel plus the opening night keynote session!!! Talk about having a panic attack.
I’d never given more than a five-minute talk before, so I’m not sure what possessed me to go through with the keynote. But I did it — and I’m so glad I did now, even though I read the entire talk word for word, shook the whole time, and it can rightly be classified as one of the worst speeches ever delivered.
None of that mattered when I was finished though. Because I had done it. I had faced my most dreaded fear in the face and I HAD BEATEN IT!
Maybe I’d just barely survived. But I had survived. And that gave me hope, excitement, and amazing courage.
Learning to Enjoy Public Speaking
In addition, something crazy happened when I stepped off that platform: I realized that public speaking no longer seemed like the most awful thing in the world. In fact, there was a tiny part of me that actually enjoyed it.
As God began opening up more doors for me to speak, my husband and I both felt this was His leading… so I started slowly saying “yes” to a few opportunities. Each time, I was shaking in my boots. But each time, it got a little better and a little better. And, as the opportunities continued to come in, it fueled my desire to practice and hone the skill of public speaking.
The past three years have been a journey of growth and stretching for me. Stepping outside my comfort zone, making mistakes, and learning as I go.
I’m far from arrived and still have much to improve upon when it comes to my public speaking skills, but I actually now look forward to each opportunity and find so much joy in standing up and sharing what I’m passionate about with others. That’s downright amazing progress for a gal who used to avoid public speaking at all costs!
Here are some things I’ve learned in the past three years:
Just Do it — And Keep Doing It
This sounds ridiculously simple — and it is! — but it’s true: The best way to become a speaker is to just go out there and speak.
Accept just about every opportunity that comes your way — whether it’s speaking at the nursing home, giving a little talk to a group of children, teaching a class at the local community center, or sharing at a small women’s group. The more you can be in front of audiences practicing your material and trying new approaches, the better.
Practice, Practice, Practice
When you are first starting out as a speaker, practice more than feels necessary. I try to practice new talks from start to finish at least two to three times before delivering them. This includes using my slides, keeping my notes where I plan to keep them, and having a live audience.
Yes, you need to practice in front of a live audience of at least one or two people (preferably someone who will make you feel uncomfortable). I promise you’ll be glad you did!
Attend a Speaking Conference
Attending the She Speaks Intensive in January was one of the best things I’ve ever done as a blogger. Not only did I get to sit under amazing speakers and learn from them, but I also met Michele Cushatt (my speaking coach — more on her in a moment), got connected with Brian Scheer & Joy Groblebe (who have mentored me over the past seven months and recently became my managers — so thrilled to be working with them!), and met Ruth, Angie, Kathi, and Renee — dear, dear women who have all become close friends.
So yes, attending a speaking conference was right up there at the top of my list of Best Things I’ve Done As a Blogger! 🙂
By the way, if you’re looking for a speaking conference to attend, I’ve heard amazing things about the SCORRE conference and plan to attend it in 2014.
Hire a Coach
As I said a minute ago, I met Michele Cushatt at the She Speaks Intensive. I hired her as my speech coach shortly thereafter and she’s changed my entire approach to speech preparation.
Michele quickly taught me that I was going about things all wrong. You see, blogging and speech writing are two entirely different things — but I was trying to go about them in the same way. And that’s why it wasn’t working!
From Michele’s coaching, I’ve learned how to start with one key message I want people to leave with and how to clearly flesh that message out in a way that will resonate with my audience. She’s helped me pare down my massive lists of things I want to share in one talk and just hone in on a few major things.
The thing I love most about working with Michele is that she serves as a fantastic sounding board for me. We usually spend about an hour on the phone going over each new talk I develop. She listens to what I want to convey, challenges me on points she thinks are weak, and encourages me to dig deeper as a storyteller.
Having a speech coach has made a major difference in the quality of my speeches and it’s given me much greater confidence in my delivery. I can’t recommend a coach highly enough!
Ask for Critiques
Once you’ve gotten some practice under your belt, ask a few people you trust to sit in on your talks and give you candid feedback. Liz, my road manager, sits in on every single talk I give. Because she gets to hear the same talks over and over again (bless her!), she can give me invaluable feedback each time.
We usually have a debrief at the end of every speaking engagement. She gives me honest thoughts on what parts of the talk worked well and where I can improve. Having this input has been incredibly helpful!
What advice and encouragement do the rest of you have for Lisa? I’d love to hear!