I didn’t always enjoy public speaking; in fact there was a time where it down right terrified me.
Crying While Speaking
In the early 90s I was in university. As a member of the Society of Women Engineers I co-chaired the community outreach programs; regularly giving workshops, courses and presentations. It was club election time and the committee asked me to run for president. No one else was running. Based on the work I had done with outreach, they thought I was a great candidate for club president. I was honored; I asked what was involved and agreed to run.
Shortly Before the Elections…
…they pulled me aside and said that since we spoke, multiple candidates had come forward to run for club president. “It’s no problem.” They said. “You just need to give a speech at the meeting.”
No problem? I was a deer caught in the headlights. Honestly, it never occurred to me that I had to GIVE A SPEECH. I was caught off-guard. I asked, “What should I speak about?” They said, “Why do you want to be president?” “Because you asked me to.” I replied with a hint of sarcasm. In some twisted way I’d convinced myself I couldn’t do it. I was in panic mode. It did not go well.
A Long Story Short
At the meeting I got up on stage terrified, my voice, hands and knees quivering, my face beet red and “spoke”, more like croaked out what I had to say as quickly as I could. I finished and left the stage in tears. Afterwards a couple of friends came up and said they were voting for me, but after that speech they couldn’t. It was humiliating. From that point on I did what I could to avoid presentations and speeches. When I had to, I gave them, but there was no sense of enjoyment. I only felt ill.
Learning to Enjoy Speaking
Secretly I admired people who could speak on stage and have fun doing so – it’s what I wanted to do. It’s also what led me to join Toastmasters and become the speaker I am today. In 2005, when I joined Toastmasters I had just one goal – enjoy speaking.
A Rocky Road at First
I recall my icebreaker speech; my voice creaked, wobbled, and squeaked like a teenage boy from start to finish. As soon as I stepped in front of the crowd I could feel the heat rising from my neck and up my head, as I blushed a thousand shades of red. I simply powered through the 6-minute speech, pretending that it didn’t matter. When I sat down afterwards, I mostly felt a great sense of relief and finally took a breath.
Over the years with the support of my fellow Toastmasters and a lot of hard work, I feel I’ve achieved that goal and more. I love public speaking – it’s so much fun. I learned many tools and developed my skills. Giving talks, presentations, speeches, trainings, and running workshops is something that I enjoy. My audiences enjoy it too. Preparing a workshop or presentation is like a puzzle – how I can best connect with this audience, on this topic and leave them with a little something extra than they had coming in. What a thrill!
Set Goals in a Manner that Supports You
Often we set goals where success is judged by others. I needed a goal where success was based on my own measure. A goal like becoming a championship speaker would have been based on the opinions of others and only partly within my control. However to “enjoy speaking” is a choice – I can chose to or not. I’m the only “judge and jury” who can know if I truly enjoy something. I did myself a big favor. Setting the goal in this way meant it wasn’t about success or failure, it was about having fun.
Turn Your Challenges into Wisdom
Looking back at that speech in university I realized that challenge left me with some nuggets of wisdom.
- Breath – whenever you feel your fear kick in, in such a situation take a nice deep breath. It’s grounding and helps you to stay in a more rational place.
- Prepare – for me the fear came from feeling unprepared. That’s an easier one to fix; simply take the time to prepare. While you can’t anticipate everything you can take specific steps to ease your worries.
- Develop your skills – There are two types of preparation long term and short term. Developing your skills is a way to be prepared over the long term. Even when I’m in speaking situations where preparation isn’t possible, I feel confident enough to speak anyhow because I’m sure of my skills.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For and Take Help
I couldn’t have gotten there without the support of my TM colleagues and my friends (thank you, thank you, thank you). From the start they were always there to help, teach and encourage me. During the preparations for the European competition, I learned that in fact the journey of getting there (all the practice and feedback sessions) was the best part. Why – because we were together. They helped me develop my passion, further my skills and step outside my comfort zone. In the end, success was something we shared.
Want to develop your skills as a speaker? Find out more about how you can work with me here.
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