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Public Speaking Changed My Life and It Can Change Yours Too

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Close your eyes and think of the first word that comes to mind when you hear ‘public speaking.’ If you’re like who I was growing up, terrified, nervous, sweaty palms, and no thank you would all be pretty accurate reactions.

According to the Forbes article, “Why We Fear Public Speaking And How To Overcome It”, about 10 percent of the world’s population love public speaking. These are folks who experience a serious adrenaline rush from commanding the stage and inspiring large crowds with their thoughts. Another 10 percent are terrified by the mention of public speaking, and the middle 80 percent are not completely sold on the idea, but wouldn’t mind delivering a presentation when and if required (think: at work).

The goal is to graduate to the top 10 percent of folks who have an infectious passion for public speaking. I will confess to you that as a child growing up, I was painfully shy. But in middle school, something amazing happened. I discovered public speaking and it changed my life.

From being an inhibited child, to becoming a Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) Top 10 National Finalist in Public Speaking, to finally capping college off as the student commencement speaker at Georgia Tech, I have indeed come a long way. Public speaking has transformed my life, and if you give it a chance, I promise it will revolutionize yours too. Ready to make it happen? Let’s do it.

There’s no doubt that the ability to successfully and confidently articulate ideas to a room of eager listeners is rare and highly desirable. But, research shows, as per this article from Daily Mail, that far more women are comfortable with the idea of an early impending death than they are with standing in a room talking to an audience. It’s this idea of looking imperfect that’s keeping many of my own girlfriends from storming the stage and blowing the audience away with an amazing speech.

Public Speaking Tip #1: Be confident in yourself and know that you’re knowledgeable and an authority figure in what you have to say. Then, write a speech keeping your audience in mind. Make sure you cater to their backgrounds, and include a specific call to action.

The minute I began trusting myself as an authority figure on the topic I was speaking on, I became increasingly self-assured and self-confident. Trust yourself and the knowledge you bring to the table, and watch your confidence grow exponentially!

With this newly found confidence, you’re now ready for the next step. I was once told that public speaking is really a series of one-on-one conversations, which is a novel way to think about it. This skill is a muscle, which needs to be exercised as much as possible in order to grow.

Public Speaking Tip #2: Find and nurture as many opportunities to public speak as possible.

At work, locate the nearest Toastmasters chapter, and make yourself the most active member. I guarantee you will see results. The way Toastmasters works is they give members ample opportunities to practice getting up in front of people and speaking on various ‘table topics.’ It’s a great exercise in extemporaneous as well as prepared speaking. In addition, will you do me a favor? Volunteer for as many office presentation gigs as possible. This is critical to you developing your new found power in speaking.

Finally, with a revitalized sense of self-confidence and ample practice comes the most difficult part of mastering public speaking: choosing your content. It’s the key to ensuring that your audience relishes the experience. Every speech is characterized by riveting substance and equally riveting style (think: your favorite orators, chances are they exhibit both each time). What makes you move? What are you most passionate about? What is that one idea you want to share with people around the world? The balance of substance and style is so huge in making or breaking a speech.

Public Speaking Tip #3: Select your speech content effectively, incorporate several aspects of research, include your personal story, and relate it to your diverse audience. Then, focus on delivery: mind your voice projection, eye contact, facial expressions, and body language to create a winning combination.

I’ve always thought substance and style each represent 50 percent of a superb speech, and one without the other creates only half a speech.

In our society, the biggest fear, according to the Department of Psychology at The University of Texas at Austin, is public speaking. And 15 percent of Americans dramatically fear it. What really hurts me is that people have rejected job offers and students have dropped out of classes because of an inability to successfully communicate their thoughts. Today, our success is directly correlated with our ability to communicate effectively. Whether you’re the CEO making a pitch to venture capitalists, or just quite simply giving a pep talk to your co-worker after a rough week, you will surpass the standards of success if you’re able to master public speaking.

Photo: Thinkstock

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