I am a member of a local toastmasters club. In a typical Toastmasters meeting, there is a session called Table Topics. How this works is that the Topics-Master calls on anyone from the audience to the lectern, and asks them a random question. The person is then expected to respond impromptu to the question within 1 to 2 minutes. The question can be as simple as “What is the worst experience you’ve ever had” or as far reaching as “Address the country as a newly elected president”
This is usually the most dreadful and equally exciting part of the meeting for even seasoned toastmasters because getting to think on your feet in front of an audience isn’t something you easily get used to.
In one of our meetings, a smartly dressed, confident-looking young man was called upon to participate. But he declined; he couldn’t summon the courage to step forward. Even when the audience cheered and applauded to encourage him, he wouldn’t move. He didn’t take that chance and he never came back to any of our meetings. I can only imagine how bad he would have felt about himself after that day. And how much longer into his life he would be haunted by that incident if he didn’t do anything about it.
It’s very likely you can relate to this. The fear of speaking before a group of people is among the biggest fear most people have. It is said, though a bit exaggerated, that in a funeral, most people will rather be the one in the coffin than be the person to deliver the eulogy. One author, in describing how this fear grips us, said that “The human brain starts working the moment you are born and never stops until you stand up to speak in public”.
May be you can relate to that as well. You’ve had an experience where you got in front of people to speak and your tongue suddenly disconnects from your brain. Your previously conceived thoughts suddenly evaporated. How do you deal with this dreadful demon that evokes the fear of public speaking? You see, you may succeed in masking this fear throughout your school years. But once you get into the real world of commerce, you will be confronted every now and then with this demon. The earlier you face and deal with this fear the better prepared you’ll become to embrace important life and career opportunities.
In today’s video, I’m going to share with you how to conquer your fear of public speaking and even use this fear to your advantage. Before we get to it, be sure to subscribe to After School TV for more insightful videos like this. Also, click the notification bell so that you get notified when we publish new videos.
Look for Opportunity to Speak before a small group
Years ago, I enrolled in an entrepreneurship training course. In one of our classes, we were split into groups to brainstorm and present a business idea to the entire class. Each team was to select their representative to present and defend their plan. I was selected to represent my team. The scariest part of it was that I had to write on a flipchart. No way! I would do anything but pick up a pen and write while I was nervous. But I had no other choice. What excuse could I give? My hands trembled as I held the pen. The more I thought about and tried to control it, the worse it got and the more nervous I became. My presentation ended terribly. And my team took the last position. After that day, I vowed never to be caught in a situation like that ever again.
So I began to look for ways to develop my public speaking skills. I read books, watched videos and all that led me to Toastmasters club. Toastmasters international is a non-profit organization that provides people with like-minds with a safe and friendly environment to develop competent communication and leadership skills.
I attended my first meeting, signed up the same day and delivered my first speech project the next meeting. I was there for serious business because developing your communication skill is serious business. My first speech project, as mediocre as it was, launched me into my journey of conquering my fear of public speaking. Three months later, the club’s VP education asked me to participate in a club speech contest. I won the contest to represent the club at an Area-level contest. I won the Area contest to represent the Area at the division-level and then district-level where I came the second runner up. Within a space of one year, I couldn’t recognize myself standing on those stages and contesting with people I consider excellent speakers.
The most practical advice I can give to start working on your public speaking skills is to join a toastmasters club or any other organization that offers such opportunities. There are toastmasters clubs all over the world. In fact during the covid-19 lockdown most clubs were holding meetings online. You can start with the online meeting. When the lockdown and restrictions ease, look for a club near you. If you can’t find one, you can leverage other opportunities to speak by joining a social club or church group. The important thing is to get practical. You cannot overcome your fear of public speaking from reading books or watching videos on YouTube. You have to practice to learn.
Here are a few more helpful tips for your next speaking opportunity.
Write and Practice
People are often reluctant to speak before an audience because they are afraid of forgetting what they have to say or showing their nervousness. “What if I forget what I have to say?” “What if I don’t make sense?” “What if I make a fool of myself? These are questions that go through your mind. When you are just starting out to speak in public, if you have the time, you can minimize this fear by writing your speech. Then fine tune it as you rehearse. If you are to speak for 10 minutes, spend at least 120 minutes rehearsing your speech. It is best if you spread this time through different days so that you can sleep over it. This will help you internalize you speech rather than cramming it. If you are starting out, this exercise will likely not eliminate your nervousness but early preparation will increase your confidence level when you step up to speak.
Speak to one person in the audience
The most effective way to communicate with a group of people is to speak to one person at the time. Having a conversation with someone is not as terrifying as speaking to a crowd. Instead of staring at the ceiling, and avoiding to make eye contact – which will only help to amplify your nervousness, pick the most interested person in the audience and speak to that person for a few minutes. Switch to another person at interval. What this does is that it makes you appear more confident and interested in the audience. And as you are speaking to one person, every other person in the audience feels like you are speaking to them. It also helps you narrow your focus to individuals rather than the crowd. This works every time.
Remember to Pause
Often, out of anxiety, there is the temptation to rush through what you have to say so that you can get off the spotlight. Then you forget to pause and breathe. There is a saying that goes around at my club; to speak is human; to pause is divine. The pause is one of the most powerful moments of every great speech.
[pause for 3 seconds] It’s perfectly okay to pause and recollect your thoughts while at the spotlight.
Here is a pro tip: your nervousness is not as visible to your audience as you think or feel. Your mind is over exaggerating it. Don’t apologize for being nervous. Pause, Breathe and speak.
Repeat! Repeat! Repeat!
Developing the skill to communicate effectively before a group of people is like staying healthy. You have to keep eating right. Once you have taken that first step, resolve to accept any opportunity to speak. When I joined Toastmasters, I resolved to take on any opportunity to speak. Within 12 months, I had gone from the nervous speaker to winning speech competitions up to country level.
If there is one thing you should take away from this video, this is it. Decide to accept any request to speak. Decide to take on the next speaking challenge. And then the next… As Albert Einstein puts it, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit”
What’s the worst that could happen?
If you are thinking, what if all these don’t work for me?
Well, What if it does?
What if you discover that you are a better speaker than you ever thought you were? In my years of meeting people join Toastmasters to develop their speaking skill, nine out of ten times, they turn out better than they thought they were. You’ll never know until you try. On the other hand, what’s the worst thing that could happen?
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