How To Be A Better Public Speaker
I remember being terrified of speaking.
When people rate greatest fears, public speaking is often at the top even before death.
It doesn’t make sense. But a lot of life doesn’t always make sense.
The principle I live by is:
Competence + Confidence = Freedom
With competence (skills) we gain confidence (although we may have healthy doubts and fears) and this combination gives us freedom.
Flow state speaking in front of groups of people occurs with a non-thinking mind. It is the meditative state we’ve all experienced in some capacity whether it be through sports, art, music, or any other medium.
When we are skilled and confident we are able to weave in and out effortlessly. The words come together like a dance. It feels like an improvisation. I tell people it isn’t me speaking. It is something else.
Get Out Of The Way
Overthinking is the most common dream killer. It kills day to day curiosity. It halts progress on the micro level.
Public speaking failures come from overthinking, among other reasons.
The reality is we need to fail, learn what we failed at, identify blindspots, and re-work. This is the toughest part. It is easy to think “I know the topic” and I’ll just flow. But if you haven’t had too much experience you may be falling into the “Dunning-Kruger” effect.
But it’s ok to mess up a public speaking engagement. The scary part is if we don’t put ourselves in low-stakes situations where messing up isn’t catastrophic, we lend ourselves to catastrophe when it matters most.
We don’t want our big day to be ruined by lack of practice. Don’t allow yourself to have such little practice because when it matters most, we all fall back to the level of our training.
I remember a phone interview with Northwestern University for a Graduate Assistantship. To obtain this position at a Big Ten Division I school would have been (at least I thought) a great stepping stone.
I bombed the interview. Don’t let it get twisted. Public speaking is not limited to seminars, workshops, and clinics. It includes all of the little interactions as well.
I was scatter-brained.
I was terrifyingly nervous.
As I stepped away, I knew I could have prepared better.
But then something happened in me.
I told myself,
“Look, this didn’t go the way you wanted. But you learned. Maybe they think you are dumb, stupid, fill in the blank. Fine. But that can be let go now. Now, you must acknowledge your blindspots. You must improve your vision in these arenas. And part of that process is how you entered the interview, not necessarily the content. You will remember this moment as a great step in development and growth, although it may feel initially like a lost opportunity. There are no lost opportunities. Life will continue to give you lessons. So stay open even during this discomfort of failing. You’re not dead. So you don’t get to quit.”
Talking to women had been a terrifying experience in the past as well. Ha, man did some interactions feel like I was dying. But you learn.
Speaking to a classroom as a college student where you’re sweating profusely and the topic is something so devoid of meaning, but treating it as if failure means death. Why?
We’ve all been there.
So how can we improve this?
Everything is practice.
I treat every interaction as practice in speech.
I treat it as an opportunity to practice listening. Truly listening. Asking better questions. You would be amazed at how much people tell you when you actually listen.
And when you speak about what matters to you, the words organize themselves in ways you wouldn’t be able to logically sequence with your mind. But they flow anyways.
Getting out of your own way includes a few things.
Don’t judge yourself so harshly. It’s why you judge others harshly.
Detach from the harsh judge. Be objective about the failings and move on.
Next, if you are speaking about something that “sounds nice” but you don’t feel it deep inside you, it’s going to be difficult to speak well. Some people fake it and that’s fine, but the truth is going to come out in your speech.
Begin speaking on things that MATTER to you.
Does the score of the game really matter?
Do the politics of sports really matter?
Does the latest CNN story really matter?
Does the latest gossip in the office really matter?
So, maybe you don’t have anything to say. Good.
You don’t have to say ANYTHING. That’s a fallacy. Everyone today has an opinion. There’s no barrier to opinions. But reasoned thought, facts, and experience have barriers. Those barriers are time, effort, and thought.
Develop your mental models.
Develop your thoughts.
Ask better questions.
Practice your “speech” in every day interactions.
Observe with detachment positives and negatives of each interaction.
Move on and continue this process.
Sign up for a class or workshop where you can speak about an idea or concept you’ve been thinking about.
Put yourself out there once and you’ll realize where your true blindspots and ignorance lie.
It really is a simple formula.
Sometimes it just takes a little encouragement from someone who has failed as much as I have.
You can do it.
It’s going to take practice.
But being able to think, write, and speak are lost arts.
Those unable to do those three will be slaves to someone.
Unable to be your own master, someone will replace that role.
Humans all want freedom. Everyone of us. And we also need to express this freedom. Thoughts, words (speech and writing), and actions are all modes to expression.
To have freedom and not express it is the waste of the gift.
Yes, it goes deeper than being more comfortable in front of an audience.
You are wasting your gift of freedom if you do not express this.
Don’t have any ideas on how to express your freedom?
Maybe you just aren’t paying attention.
Observe free from attachment and I bet you will discover more than you could ever imagine.
Be curious my friends.