Public speaking didn't come naturally to me. You've heard of those unfortunates who turn red and stutter when called on to speak? I was one of them. Countless years of hard work helped me to attain poise, but nothing overcame what was going on inside. Fear was ever present. It wasn't until the early 1990's, after I joined Toastmasters, that I found a solution to my predicament.
The memory of breaking free from my emotional cage will always remain with me. I was one of three scheduled speakers at our weekly Toastmasters meeting, and even though I was well prepared, nervousness had set in. I went out into the hallway to run through my presentation one last time. Partway through the rehearsal, a strange feeling came over me. I remember looking through the window at my fellow toastmasters, people I had come to know and respect, and thinking there was nothing to be afraid of here. I was comfortable with these people.
An epiphany struck. Realization swept over me in waves. You see, I knew every word of the speech I was about to give. I'd practiced gestures until they were ingrained. Now, for the first time, I could envision myself on stage, relaxed and oblivious to everything but my audience. I saw this happen in my mind. So I did it. I let go of my concern, trusted myself and gave the best performance of my life. I've been speaking fearlessly in public ever since.
I'm convinced there are only two things needed to become an accomplished public speaker: Preparedness and self-confidence. One follows the other. Prepare your talk. Practice until you have your delivery down cold. Worry at it until you can't make the thing any better. Then give up all your cares, have faith in yourself and deliver your presentation. You have my word that your machine, this wonderful mind and body of yours, will remember what you've rehearsed. It's true! Words will appear in your mouth as if by magic. Your body will fall into the practiced moves without instruction. And confidence will bloom.
The same technique has been used by generations of athletes, soldiers, actors, and salespeople. Purposeful repetition forms strong commands your body and mind will always attempt to achieve - if you let them. Why not try what I've suggested? Prepare for your next talk as if it's the most important task you've ever been assigned and, when you're ready to go on stage, give up all care for the outcome. Relax. Have fun. Trust in yourself.
But if you can't...
Many years ago, I had an opportunity to observe a minor miracle. A mousey little man got up on stage in front of thousands of people. He shuffled back and forth, picked at his clothing, nervously cleared his throat and began to stutter through his opening remarks. His discomfort was so apparent and his performance so terrible that it was painful for me to watch. It was one of those dichotomous moments where part of you wants to be anywhere else in the world but another part decides not to let you look away. Others must have felt as I did, because you could have heard a pin drop in the audience. Then something happened. The man began to demonstrate a different kind of emotion. His voice took on strength, his body language indicated confidence and his gestures became animated. Sincerity and passion transformed him before my eyes. I was smitten.
The man was the renowned Dr. Leo Buscaglia. His topic was love. And I have never been touched in the same way by any other speaker.
Preparedness isn't just about memorizing your message and movements. It's about believing in what you say. It's about generating such strong mental images and emotions that your audience can't help but experience a little bit of what's going on inside you. Leo Buscaglia's passion showed me the difference between delivering a speech and communicating.
TO ACHIEVE TRUE PREPAREDNESS:
1. SET YOUR OBJECTIVES. What ideas are you trying to get across? What do you feel about that message? Are the emotions strong enough to affect others (are you passionate about what you're saying)? How can you communicate those feelings in the most powerful and meaningful way? Practice that delivery.
2. BE HONEST. Believe in what you say. Allow your emotions to show. Tell the truth.
3. BE INTERESTING. Deliver your ideas as stories. Use vivid word pictures, examples and unusual props to demonstrate and evoke the emotions you wish to communicate. Give people a reason to listen to you.
4. MAKE YOUR TALK AN EXPERIENCE. Actors, singers and writers learn to create the illusion of experience. Part of this is done by evoking emotion. Another technique is to choose words and actions to help your audience see, hear, taste, touch and smell whatever it is you're trying to convey.
5. PRACTICE. PRACTICE. PRACTICE. Once you've decided on how you want to deliver your message, you've got to rehearse. Fear won't go away overnight, nor will confidence suddenly abound. Practice will allow you to act in spite of fear. It will allow you to prove to yourself that you can speak effectively before others. My own banishment of fear was an instant conversion almost twenty years in the making. I don't think Leo Buscaglia ever vanquished his. Practice is, and always will be, the path that leads away from fear and toward self-confidence. There is no substitution for preparedness.