Growing up, we are often asked what our greatest fears are. Typically, the answer is something tangible, like spiders or sharks. Some kids would say heights or the dark. However, for me it was always talking in front of a large group of people. While I had a lot of ideas, I was shy for my entire childhood. It took about 14 years for me to break past that and be comfortable talking in front of others. It took an additional four years for me to be comfortable with doing it in a more professional setting. These are my top tips for progressing as a public speaker that I have gathered throughout the past 18 years.
No one deserves to have their voice heard over you
The first hurdle that I had to overcome to feel comfortable speaking to a large group was the idea that the other people in the room had better ideas than me. That their voice was more important, and they knew what they were talking about. However, about 90% of the time, the people that talk the most just like to hear themselves talk. Their ideas aren’t more important than what you have to say. Especially for women, men have a tendency to take control of the room and make their perspective seem like the only correct one. You have just as much of a right to your opinion as they do, and realizing that is hard. It took me years, but once you get into that mindset, everything feels a lot easier.
Take a seat at the table
After realizing that your opinions need to be heard, the next step is to put yourself in the position to actually speak. While others may want to hear your opinions, no one is going to fight for them to be heard if you don’t. Position yourself at the front of the class. Attend the board meeting. Simply putting yourself in the right physical space can greatly improve your ability to speak and to ensure other people will listen.
The most common mistake I used to make when I began speaking in public was not allowing myself a second to collect myself and gather my thoughts. It is overwhelming to have that platform for the first time, and there is this push to get out what you think as fast as possible in order to not lose that opportunity. While it is tempting to just burst out immediately with every thought you have, taking a breath before speaking works wonders. It lets you calm down, and gives you an extra second to think about what you are saying and why. No one is going to take your opportunity that quickly, so allow yourself to have a moment to feel calm.
Fake it ‘til you make it
Honestly, this might be the most important point of all. If you appear confident and like you know what you are talking about, those listening will believe you. Sometimes, who wins a debate or argument has nothing to do with the information that was presented and everything to do with how it was presented. Your audience isn’t going to believe that you know what you are talking about if you don’t. Even if you’re nervous and are not quite sure as to what is occurring, put on the front that you do. A lot of the time, you know a lot more than you give yourself credit for.
Once you are able to speak in a way that shows you know what you are talking about, you need to focus on your presentation. Again, a lot of the time people simply agree with the person who appears to know and understand more. Stand up straight, use purposeful hand motions, and move around to show emphasis on what you believe to be important information. Especially if you are giving a presentation or a speech where you are speaking for an extended period of time, it is necessary to emphasize words with your movement. This draws in the viewer’s attention, and shows them there is something important being discussed.
Speaking in front of others can be incredibly difficult, especially if it is for an extended period of time. No matter what you believe, or what you have been told, your voice deserves to be heard and your opinions should be listened to. You have the ability to speak confidently, so try to give yourself the space and support to do such.