Sunday, January 5, 2014

Public Speaking: Picture Them Naked They Say

Public speaking. What's the first thought that comes to mind when you read those two words? Does it inspire confidence? Or does it make you want to crawl into a hole and die? I'm not trying to be dramatic, here, but the latter is what most of the population experiences when faced with having to intelligently string words together in front of a crowd. And if you consider what public speaking really is, communication, it seems absurd that a skill we've developed since our first year of life, should trigger our body's fight or flight response.

What is the fight or flight response? It's our body's physical reaction to a perceived threat. The threat could be physical, like a lion, or it could be mental, like stepping outside the house. The fight or flight response has been critical to our survival as a species. Imagine. Without it, humans might've never survived past the neanderthal stage!

But why should we have such a severe emotional and physical response to a non-life-threatening activity, such as public speaking? The response stems from maladaptive thoughts that prevent us from being our best, whether it be at home, at school, or in our careers.

The first step to self-improvement is to become aware of our self-defeating thoughts and stop them before they stop us.

What I've learned the last few years from peers and friends is that no matter how at ease they appear in front of a crowd, public speaking does not come naturally to many of them. They still get nervous before an event, but instead of running to hide, they channel their nervous energy into their presentation, taking the focus off themselves and putting it instead into their message.

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to moderate a panel at #Latism13. It was the biggest mountain I'd ever had to climb. Having a week's notice and knowing I'd be amongst a group of people that I admire put a little extra pressure on me. What helped me succeed, I believe, is that I only cared about two things, the panelists and what they had to share, and that the audience learn something. My focus was not on me but on them. I'm sure it also helped that I locked myself in every bathroom I could find at the Waldorf Astoria to practice. Taking a tour of the conference room as soon as I get in there (pictured above), I'm sure helped, too! I also had a great coach who held my hand every step of the way.

Much of what I did to prepare you can find on this list taken directly from the Toastmasters International website. Click the link to read them in detail.
  1. Know your material.
  2. Practice. Practice. Practice.
  3. Know the audience.
  4. Know the room.
  5. Relax.
  6. Visualize yourself giving your speech.
  7. Realize that people want you to succeed.
  8. Don't apologize.
  9. Concentrate on the message, not the medium.
  10. Gain experience.
Are any of you members of Toastmasters? Have you considered joining? I'm thinking of joining my local chapter this month, because I know that every little bit of exposure helps. I'm ready. I've had enough of letting fear get in the way of my goals.

What has your experience been with public speaking?

Do you have any public speaking tips you'd like to share?