Fear of public speaking is common among Grownups, but there are so many ways to get better. Blogger Louis DeNicola shares how he overcame public speaking anxiety.
Fear of public speaking is common among many Grownups, but learning to take the stage can have surprising benefits.
Many people list public speaking as one of their greatest anxieties, and there was a time when I’d include myself in that crowd. I’d slowly grown more comfortable during my early 20s, to the point where I started looking forward to public speaking opportunities. But I knew I wasn’t very good. In front of an audience, my voice would shake and my hands would get sweaty.
A few years ago, I decided to improve my public speaking skills. Here are some of the public speaking tips I’ve learned.
I Created Opportunities to Practice Public Speaking
First, I had to find an opportunity to speak in public. So I created a personal finance class, and 11 friends and family members enrolled.
It was the first time I’d taught a class. Even with hours of preparation, I knew there would be unexpected questions and I’d have to think on my feet. I was nervous in spite of knowing everyone, and had just six weeks to prepare.
I Found a Way to Get Constructive Feedback on Public Speaking
I went through the presentation for my first class a dozen times. I did a full run-through with a friend and she shared which parts made sense and where she got lost.
Becoming a better speaker takes more than just practice, though. I needed to get honest feedback from people who knew how to help me improve.
I found Toastmasters, an organization that helps people practice and become better public speakers. I attended meetings at two of several clubs offered in my area. At both events the groups were welcoming, excited, and dedicated to our shared goal.
During every meeting, someone counts each time a speaker uses unnecessary filler words such as “ah” or “um.” Becoming aware of this bad habit is a first step in making sure every word you say has a purpose.
When I give a prepared speech at a meeting, there is a dedicated evaluator who gives me feedback. The focus is on my delivery and impact, not the content of the speech. I quickly learned to use my stage, to gesture with a purpose rather than keep my hands near my stomach, and the value of slowing down and pausing—for dramatic effect. I’m still working on intonation and adding humor to my speeches.
I started evaluating others as well. Looking and listening to what’s done well with public speaking, and what needs work, is an excellent way to improve. It’s also something you can easily do at home while watching TED Talks or YouTube videos.
I Found Unexpected Benefits of Public Speaking
Since I set out to develop my public speaking skills, I’ve improved immensely. I still get a little nervous sometimes, but that’s OK. I learned even when my insides are in a knot I can still appear confident, which means it must not be hurting my delivery. Plus, the feeling quickly subsides now that I’ve had some training.
My focused practice helped me in a few expected ways: I’m more comfortable in social situations, better at organizing a speech, and I know some best practices for public speaking.
(The personal finance class was a great success, by the way.)
I’m pleasantly surprised by some of the tangential benefits. My friends now remark on my timing when I tell jokes. I’m more aware of my body and the gestures I make—or don’t make—while speaking. I’ve even gotten better at coming up with creative responses while playing games like Mafia or Fishbowl.
I’ll Never Stop Learning
For me, there’s no end to becoming a better public speaker. There’s always more to learn. My end goal isn’t to be comfortable every time I speak in front of an audience; that doesn’t seem realistic to me. I want to learn how to deliver an impactful message, to move my audience to take action, and to continue looking forward to the nervous feeling that comes with stepping onto a stage.
Louis DeNicola writes and speaks about personal finance and frugal living, with expertise in credit, credit cards, budgeting, and student loans. He is an editor at Cheapism.com and lives in New York City.
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