Way back before kids and before blogging and writing, I worked for a university as their employment services manager. It was my job to teach the international students about working in Australia and how to find work. It was my first ever job where I had to do regular public speaking, and I don’t mean just a 10-15 minute talk. I mean a 2+ hour talk, in a lecture theatre, in front of bachelors and masters students. I’d had no training, no speech therapy, no experience. I just winged it.
I was an introvert back then (I’m talking almost 10 years ago here, see how young I look?). I will never forget how ill I felt with the anxiety I experienced the night before and on the morning of the session. It was almost debilitating. I could have said no but there was something in me that said yes and made me push myself the furthest I’ve ever pushed myself beyond my comfort zone.
I can’t remember how many sessions I ended up presenting all up, but what I do remember is that it got easier each time. I went from relying on my notes to presenting completely ad-lib. I went from feeling like I was stuttering, racing my speech and repeating myself to speaking clearly and calmly. I went from a person who would never dare speak in front of a group of people to one that could do it with confidence and without notes.
So how did I eventually become a confident public speaker? Well, it was not hypnosis or sneaky shots of scotch under the table. Here are some things that helped me and that I recommend to help build your confidence.
Imagine everyone naked
Just kidding. This really hasn’t worked for me. Actually, I’ve never really tried it because it’d probably make me feel worse. But what I did start doing was reminding myself that I was the expert, I was the one the students were relying on for the information they needed to succeed in the Australian workforce. If they already knew the answers, they wouldn’t have been there. Once you put yourself in the position of being the person who people are coming to learn from, it reduces your fear of being judged.
It takes time
Don’t expect to absolutely blitz public speaking straight away, that’s just putting way too much pressure on yourself. Instead, give yourself a number of goes speaking in front of groups of different sizes. Sign up to a toastmasters group for practice, practice in front of your family, put your hand up to deliver some training at work. Practicing public speaking will eventually help you get over your fear. Yes, you will still have nerves but they’ll be only a fraction of what you originally experienced.
Don’t listen to your inner ‘negative nancy’
I remember when I first started public speaking, I’d scan the room while I spoke and when I’d catch someone yawning or looking tired, I’d immediately tell myself, “oh, they’re bored, my talk must be terrible.” Thinking that way put even more pressure on my shoulders.
It’s easier said than done but try to ignore that negative self-talk and assumption making. If you do catch yourself thinking that way, scan the room for someone who does look like they’re enjoying it, someone who is nodding and smiling. Who knows, you’re probably not at all the reason someone looks tired, they may have been up all night studying, have a newborn baby at home or work night shift. Remind yourself of that.
Don’t over practice
Yes, it’s a good idea to run through your talk a couple of times but don’t overdo it. Practicing too much will actually increase your anxiety levels and make you over think it which can also lead to mistakes. Remember, if you don’t say something exactly how it’s written in your notes, you are the only one that knows!
Consider speech therapy
Did you know that there are actually speech therapy specialists that can work with you to build your communication and public speaking skills? Back when I first started I didn’t know this existed but I think it’s a fabulous idea to see a speech therapist if you really want to give public speaking your best shot.
Speech therapy is particularly useful in providing tools to deal with issues including;
- developing spoken English skills through accent modification, if English is your second language,
- language difficulties if you find it hard to articulate yourself,
- learning better breathing and swallowing techniques, and
- improving vocal tone.
None of these things should ever hold you back from being heard, understood and achieving your public speaking goals. Take your time, don’t put too much pressure on yourself and try to forget about what other people are thinking because it’s often not what you think. And speech therapy, consider it as a normal health and wellbeing check, just like a regular check-up with your GP.