How often have you said to yourself, "I'm not afraid of speaking in public, I'm just afraid I'll make a mistake!" Or "I can't speak as well as so-and-so, so I don't even want to try." Or "They'll think I'm a bad speaker, and then they'll think I'm a bad (lawyer, consultant, accountant), too."
Whoa! Wait a minute! Stop right there.
Do you think everyone who gets up to speak in front of a group of people is cool, confident and never feels fear? That they were born with some kind of 'super speaker gene'? Do you believe CEOs, organization presidents, volunteers, religious leaders, politicians or anyone else who regularly gets up on a podium never feels butterflies careening back and forth? That you're the only one who ever trips over your tongue, forgets a key point, loses your train of thought or fears the audience isn't getting it? Give yourself a break! Every great speaker feels all of those things, and more, at one time or another!
The difference between the person who is afraid to speak and the person who seems to get up and do it so easily is threefold:
- Practice, and
DESIRE: Many people desire to be good speakers but are hampered by old beliefs that they just don't have what it takes. When you were a kid and got up to speak in class, did someone laugh at you? At home were you told that "children should be seen and not heard?" When you ventured an opinion, did someone say you were stupid and tell you to be quiet? Were you among people who all talked at once and never gave you a chance to get a word in edgewise?
Take a good hard look at your earliest attempts to be heard. If your desire to speak up when you were young was squelched every time you tried, no wonder you find it difficult now that you're an adult. The desire is still there, it's just gone underground. Your world is different now. No one is saying you're stupid or telling you to be quiet. Whatever your topic, you're the expert; your point of view is unique, valuable and worth listening to. Let your desire to speak resurface. You no longer have anything to fear.
PRACTICE: The old cliché 'practice makes perfect' is not true. Practice makes you confident and comfortable. Being perfect is not an option, or a necessity. Let's face it, who wants to be confronted with perfection all the time?
Human beings respond to doing the best we can at the moment. Making the attempt, trying to succeed, that's what turns us on. When the Olympics skiers slalomed down those mountains, they all made mistakes on the way to the finish line. The winners were the ones who overcame their mistakes more successfully than their competitors. The more you practice, the better will be your ability to overcome your mistakes and fears. Getting up to speak, even when you're afraid, gives you valuable knowledge of your ability to perform under pressure, to recover when you goof, to keep on keeping on, and never give up no matter what the challenge. We should probably change that old cliché to "practice makes character", because in fact that's what it does.
EXPERIENCE: Experience teaches you what to expect from yourself and your audiences. It gives you respect for your own abilities, confidence that you can overcome your fears, and the expectation that when you have something to say, people want to listen. Forget about perfection. Do the best you can. Your best is good enough.