You CAN Speak in Public!
Part 1: You will never be asked to speak beyond your authority.
If you’re one of the 25–30% of Americans who have true glossophobia — fear of public speaking — I can’t help you.
If you’re one of the 8–10% of Americans who have zero fear of public speaking, go away — you don’t need any help.
But if you’re in that big middle part — one of the group who doesn’t become debilitated by the thought of public speaking, but would still rather not — I have a few tips for you.
Here is Number 1: You Have Authority.
No one is ever going to ask you to talk on a subject about which you know nothing.
I’m a history professor with certain specialties. While someone may ask me to talk about the Space Race of the 1960s, no one would ever ask me to talk about orbital mechanics. I don’t know about that. Someone may ask me to talk about military staff work in the Civil War (yeah, I wrote a book on it), but they wouldn’t ask me about modern military staff training. I don’t know about that.
Someone is not going to ask me — or you — to speak beyond your authority.
The best professor I ever had was a specialist in modern Europe. She simply walked into the room and began talking. With authority.
I told her once how much I admired her speaking ability, and she told me that wasn’t always the case. When she started her career she always had to throw up in a trash can before entering the classroom! She hadn’t yet realized her own authority.
I hear you snorting — “you’re professors, you’re trained to speak in public.” That’s not actually true. We’re trained in certain areas, not necessarily effective speaking. In truth, some of the worst speakers I’ve ever heard were professors. The good ones have found a voice that enables them to convey their knowledge in a pleasing, satisfying, even entertaining way.
And you can do that, too!
Remember, you will never be asked to speak beyond your authority.
(I’m not talking about making a research talk in a general education college course. That’s more about showing rudimentary research and information literacy skills. You’ve got to prepare, sure, but it’s not the kind of talk you might give to a civic group or professional symposium.)
In fact, an invitation to speak is validation of sorts. It is an acknowledgement of your authority, and that should help ease your fears. Someone, maybe not you (yet), believes you have the ability to speak on said topic.
Pretend Case Study
Let’s say you are comic book collector. You’re a real person, you don’t live in your mom’s basement, you have a job, and you aren’t yellow.
You are actually someone people would like to hear from, with a topic they would enjoy. It’s cool; it’s unusual.
And say a local collectors’ club wants you to speak at their monthly gathering, held in the meeting room of a nearby pancake house.
You’re hesitant. Not scared to death. But hesitant.
So, just break it down. What elements can you talk about?
Well, why would you collect comics? You started as a kid because, hey, kids like comics and heroes. You kept at it because you realized they actually reflect historical eras or social topics.
Like World War II!
Or the scourge of drug abuse!
Or equal rights for women.
There is all kinds of relevance to your collection beyond the cover art. And you know all about it.
But where do you get them? Have you had them since you were a kid? Do you find them in attics?
How do you know what a comic is worth? How do you know if it’s real? How do you know if it’s mint?
Here’s a good one. Can you make a living doing this?
In four paragraphs I’ve laid out what would probably become a 30-minute talk revolving around simple questions that anyone would ask. You simply anticipate those questions and talk around them.
It’s painless because you know it. You are fully immersed in your topic. No surprises.
You are an AUTHORITY on this topic. No one is asking you to speak beyond your authority.
But what if they want you to talk for an hour? Well, your audience will probably start asking questions, and that will eat up surprising amounts of time.
And they will ask questions, because people want to hear others talk about things they love, know about, and have spent time with.
If they don’t ask questions? Don’t worry about it. Thank them for listening, then finish your pancakes.
But they will ask questions.
It all comes down to this. If someone asks you to speak, it is because they believe you have AUTHORITY in a given subject. They believe in your authority, and they will not ask you talk beyond your authoritative range.
Okay, that’s a beginning. But there is a little more to effective public speaking. Authority is the foundation. Next time we’ll start building on it.