In 2001 I joined Toastmasters, a speaking and leadership skills organization, and it changed my life. I was a devoted member of the Seattle General Toastmasters club for eight years. Recently, I returned to my club to see all of my buddies, some of whom have been members for 30 plus years. For many longtime members, myself included, the club is more than just a place to practice speaking; it’s also a place of fellowship. So attending a meeting was like homecoming for me.
When I first walked in the doors to Seattle General 15 years ago I was a nervous, inexperienced speaker. But, I gathered up my courage and agreed to give my first speech a few weeks after joining the club. During those early speeches my heart was pounding, my mouth became dry as the dessert, I had shaky legs and my speech was full of ums and uhs. But, through practice and constructive feedback from my fellow Toastmasters I eventually became comfortable with public speaking and actually started to enjoy it. My confidence and skill as a speaker grew the more I spoke, and before long I was regularly being asked to mentor new members.
Today, I am a professional speaker, and public speaking is one of my greatest joys. In fact, I now coach people who want to improve their skills as a speaker. Some of my clients have come to me because they have a terrible fear of public speaking. Others want to better connect with and engage their audience. It’s always rewarding seeing someone’s confidence and speaking ability improve.
Even if public speaking is not something you have to do regularly, as you climb the corporate ladder and get older you will be required to speak more often. At the very least, you’ll probably be called upon to give a toast at a wedding or a eulogy at a funeral. Being comfortable and skilled as a speaker will lead to greater career and social success. Here are three tips to help you.
Most new speakers stop breathing because of their nervousness. And, when you stop breathing or take only shallow breaths you deprive your brain of oxygen. If you’ve ever given a presentation and had your mind go blank it is because you’re not breathing. As you prepare to give your speech, breathe deep into your belly so that you feel it expand. Let the air out slowly. As you exhale each deep breath imagine you are expelling nervousness. Be sure to breathe at the lectern as well. If you’re using notes, you could even write “breathe” on the top of them as a reminder.
Perfect your opening lines
So often when a speaker first starts presenting they are at the height of their nervousness and often struggle with remembering what to say. It’s crucial to practice your first sentence or two until you know it inside and out. That way, when you get up to speak you don’t have to search for your words. They will come out easily and confidently, which will help decrease your nervousness. Additionally, knowing your first few lines will allow you to look at the audience and connect with them rather than your notes.
If you want to be a better and more comfortable speaker you must practice presenting in front of groups. Take every opportunity to speak. For example: give recognition to a coworker in a department meeting, share a few words about someone who is retiring at their retirement celebration or make a toast at a dinner party. The more you practice public speaking the more comfortable you’ll get. It’s really true, practice makes perfect. And, if you would like guidance for becoming a better speaker consider joining Toastmasters or hiring a speech coach. It could be life changing for you as well.
What has helped you to feel more confident and comfortable when speaking in public? Feel free to comment below.
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