Improve Your Public Speaking
Over ten years ago, I found myself in a class for leaders and managers. After building rapport and working to create a safe environment of trust, the class facilitator decided to have us go around the room and share our insecurities and fears. The coach was specifically homing in on our weaknesses and asking for us to be transparent with others in the room.
As we worked around a small circle, one woman was visibly nervous. When it was her turn, it was as if someone flipped a switch and turned her red. She stumbled over her words as she explained how fearful she was to speak in public. Even in a safe situation with supportive friends, she still was nervous to share. We learned that she even had nightmares where she was in front of a room, perched behind a podium, and she misplaced her notes and looked out at a sea of unforgiving faces. Another attendee encouraged her and told her that she was better off avoiding these events so she didn’t trigger her fears.
The fear of public speaking grips many people who avoid it at all costs.
I want to share why this “avoidance thinking” is toxic to aspiring leaders.
Recently, I spoke to my local chapter of Toastmasters and shared 7 reasons why learning to speak in public is vitally important.
1. Overcome your fear.
There’s enormous power in mastering and overcoming a fear, whatever it is. I can recall the smile on a new rock climber’s face when he conquered his fear. “I have never felt so alive and free,” he said to me soon after completing his climb. That same feeling happens if you overcome a fear of public speaking, and – at least to me – it’s a whole lot easier than climbing a mountain.
“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak, and to sit down and listen.” –Winston Churchill
2. Boost your self-confidence.
When you not only are able to overcome your fear but also become proficient at it, then your confidence soars. Confidence is often more compelling than competence. I don’t know what happened to the nervous woman after the class ended, but during the few days of our classes, she saw remarkable improvement. You could feel her confidence building.
3. Attract opportunities.
Great public speakers attract opportunities. Why? Speaking makes you visible. You’re in front of the room, so that’s rather obvious. But the fact is that your credibility is enhanced. You become an expert.
“It’s all right to have butterflies in your stomach, just get them to fly in formation.” –Rob Gilbert
4. Influence others.
Leadership is all about influence, about persuasion, about taking people from one point and moving them to another. Speaking is part of that process of persuasion and often the most powerful part. Anything that helps increase your influence is generally a good move.
“All the great speakers were bad speakers at first.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
5. Increase personal power.
I’m a CEO. That implies that I get things done by positional power. That can be true, but far more impactful is personal power. My view is that the most powerful leaders get things done through personal power. That means that leaders are not determined by an organizational chart, but by influence. If I can only influence you through my title, because you work for me, I’m not a great leader. Instead, if I work on my personal power, my skills, my persuasion, then I can increase my ability to impact you at a core emotional level – because your wanting to do something and finding your unique way to do it is far more beneficial than my prescribed method.
“There are two types of speakers: those who get nervous and those who are liars.” –Mark Twain
6. Increase your empathy.
A good speaker identifies with others. If I’m a self-absorbed speaker, I’m not very effective. Learning to understand and read an audience well increases your emotional intelligence (your EQ) and your ability to understand and impact others. Empathy is a trait not taught in schools and yet vitally important to leadership.
“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” -Henry David Thoreau
7. Master a topic.
You’ve heard this before, and it’s true: You can learn something, but you learn it at a far deeper level if you’re teaching or sharing it with others. Seneca once said, “While we teach, we learn.” You prepare differently; you absorb the material differently, and you are challenged and learn from that as well.
If you want increased wealth, reputation, status, position, power, influence or many other benefits, get comfortable with speaking. Whether giving a toast or a major keynote address, you will find that public speaking eventually is not something to fear, but to enjoy.
I wish you success on your speaking journey.
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