Last week, I channeled my late mother and bragged about my kids and their participation in the TAP challenge (Technology Awareness Program). I beamed about how my younger son overcame his fear of public speaking, and how my older son worked the stage. I shared that he was way better than I ever was at his age. What you don’t know is just how true that statement is.
When I was in high school, I was far more like my younger son. Public speaking was my greatest fear.
I am not sure what possessed me to take a public speaking class my junior year, I must have filled a requirement. I really didn’t have any interest. In fact, I dreaded public speaking so much, it kept me from going out for student council, not because I didn’t want to run the school, but solely because I didn’t want to give a speech. Not writing it, Not delivering it. None of it. No, thank you! I thought that was the absolute worst chore anybody could do.
In the class, all we did was write and deliver speeches. I’ll never forget the feedback I got after my first speech. In front of the whole class, my teacher said three things about my performance:
- I spoke a mile a minute. (Well, I am a Jersey girl after all)
- I couldn’t be heard past the third row.
- My voice shook, showing how nervous I was.
Does that surprise you? A lot of times people think that I must have always loved being on stage or that public speaking came to me naturally. Not even close.
I ended up becoming a writing and communications minor in college which required another public speaking course. What that experience made me realize and what has fueled my growth, is… these are skills you can learn.
I still didn’t like it. I still got super nervous and had that sense of dread right before. But I could fake it, until I made it real (a concept form The 11 Laws of Likability). The revelation was that many of the ways nerves manifested for me were invisible to the audience. If they couldn’t tell how much I hated it, then to me, that was a win. But the fear continued. In my early career, I didn’t have to leverage any of those skills and that was just fine by me.
It wasn’t until late 20s as a student at Columbia Business School that I decided I didn’t want to be afraid anymore. Up to this point, I really only had to speak in front of my classes, 30 people tops. I wanted to challenge myself.
As a peer advisor, I had the opportunity to speak in front of the entire entering class of 750 students and faculty, and I took it. I only spoke for five minutes, but I did it. I felt that sense of accomplishment. I conquered the fear.
I am sharing the not so smooth story of my evolution as a public speaker so that anybody out there who feels the same way will know that you can also build the skill, even if you don’t feel the passion.
Though I have come to master the skill and welcome the challenge, the fear stays with me. I’ll never forget how nervous I felt in 2015 in front of my first international audience of over 1,000 people – my largest audience at that time. My heart was beating out of my chest and walking to the center of the stage I wondered if I could pull it off.
I remind you of what I reminded myself of that day. The audience is not out to get you. You set the tone. If you are comfortable, you will make them comfortable. If you’re having fun, you can help them have fun too.
Remember, energy is contagious. If you’re thinking about improving your public speaking skills, or you see somebody in your organization that needs it. That is something I love to teach whether in a group or one-on-one. Click to learn more about Public Speaking Training & Presentation Skills Coaching.
And by the way, I still get nervous. But that just reminds me I care.