“There are two types of speakers: those that are nervous and those that are liars.” -Mark Twain
I think almost every young child has that common unpleasant memory of their first public speaking experience. It could have been asking a question to a group of strangers or talking in front of your elementary class peers. That experience for me was enough to scare me into believing that I was destined to avoid any opportunity to speak in front of a group of people I either knew or didn’t at the time. I felt like nobody else felt the anxiety I did when it came to answering a question in a peer setting or even just asking for an extra napkin at a restaurant. That was actually something I didn’t have the courage to do for probably the first 15 years of my life. But, I knew I had to overcome this for me to grow as a person.
The turning point happened for me where I threw myself to the wolves in a situation that I didn’t want to back out of after I committed. By the wolves, I mean a few hundred of the most supportive people I have met who hardly knew me. Allow me to backtrack at this time to explain what I mean. I joined one of the Miss Excellence Programs in British Columbia. You may or may not have heard of these programs if you are from Canada, but essentially the goal of this program is to help a young woman blossom into a confident individual. We had meetings frequently to go over public speaking techniques for the speeches and skits we would be presenting over the next 6 months. Throughout these months we were groomed into a group of young women who would avoid a speaking in front of a crowd to a group of women who could stand confidently and proudly to entertain an audience on our own.
On the outside, it probably looks to most people that as a group we evolved overnight into more confident women who would jump at any chance we get to speak in front of a crowd. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. When the Miss Excellence Program began, the group of other women who joined had a hard time evening speaking in front of each other in a closed room. The end goal of this program was to be able to present a speech that was a minimum of 5 minutes long in front of a crowd of people in a pageant setting. We were told to pick a topic that emotional excited us so our personalities could really shine through.
Our coordinators took baby steps with each of us by having us speak for only 15 seconds at the front of the room. Honestly, I still remember how those were the longest 15 seconds of my life and I felt incredibly misfortuned to have drawn the lucky number one for going first. Over the weeks the coordinators began asking us to come prepared with bits of our speech topic to explain to the group. BUT, this worked miracles and soon 5 minutes flew by and I began to feel as though I could stand at the front of this room and speak until my prepared topic was done.
We did a couple small public speaking events to help us build up our comfort level to speaking in front of a few hundred people. The first event really sent me on an anxiety roller coaster until I was standing in front of a group of people who, to my surprise, were looking at my intently and patiently. When I spoke I realized I couldn’t tell if people were picking apart my sentences or judging my appearance. Once I was done speaking, it occurred to me that all of the people in the audience were not forced to be here, they came voluntarily. They were in attendance to hear what I had to say and I carried this thought with me the rest of the Miss Excellence Program and to this vary day.
The turning point for me was realizing 2 big things:
-The first was that these people were sitting in the audience, regardless of it being a classroom, a meeting, or a public event, to hear what I had to say.
-The second was that I felt the audience was supporting what I had to say because they are simply in attendance. They may be picking apart my sentence structure in their head or have a different opinion on the topic I am speaking about but that is simply their opinion. This is the 21st century and each person is entitled to their own opinion but when I was up their speaking, I was there to express my own thoughts and information.
Next time you are going to speak in front of a crowd, whether it is big or small, remember that the anxiety you feel is normal. I haven’t met a single person who doesn’t get a few butterflies in their stomach, but the changing factor to your situation is realizing that these people are in the audience to be entertained by you speaking. You are your harshest critic and if you miss a line in your speech or go slightly off topic, you are the only one who really knows about it. So please, be confident with who you are and view the situation as the audience is there to support you. Even if a few people don’t like what you have to share, know that not everyone will have the same opinion on a topic or even have an interest in it, but that doesn’t change who you are.
I would love to hear about the turning point in your confidence for public speaking.