If Your New Year’s Resolution Contains Anything about Overcoming the Fear of Public Speaking – THEN SPEAK IN FRONT OF PEOPLE!
People like myself who join Navy ROTC halfway through our college years enter a six-weeks long indoctrination program called the Naval Science Institute in Newport, Rhode Island. Included in the program is the study of Naval warfare, learning basic military protocols and of course, physical training – PT for short. Our days began with PT on a grassy knoll along the waterfront. Nice.
Not so nice was that we shared the grassy knoll with hundreds Canadian geese. The geese didn’t just use the grassy knoll as a hangout. They used it for what we in the Navy call a head. You civilians call it a bathroom.
If you don’t know what the “bend and thrust exercise” is take a look at this quick video.
Now imagine at o’dark thirty doing bend and thrusts while avoiding the goose poop all around you. Is it any wonder that I was in tip top physical shape that summer?!
Overcoming your fear of public speaking is like doing PT on the grassy knoll. You have to do the exercise to get the results, but you may have to dodge some goose poop in the process.
Overcoming the Fear of Public Speaking Is a Performance Activity
As a member of a Toastmasters club for over 10 years, I’ve often seen new faces at our January meetings. As people set new year’s resolutions to forward their careers, many a corporate citizen has sought out a Toastmasters club.
If you’ve put overcoming the speaking of public speaking on your resolution list this year, then this blog post is for you!
You May Not Need a Speech Coach
I love coaching people to improve their presentations. I’m good at doing it and it gets me a lot of referrals.
But there are times when people come to me thinking they want to hire me when in fact, what they really need is a place to practice their speaking skills.
In other words, they don’t have a specific conference presentation they are preparing or a client demo they need to nail. They just want to get more comfortable speaking in front of a group.
There is no substitute for getting up and speaking in front of a group to become more comfortable with speaking in front of a group! It’s like PT: Ya just gotta do it!
So here are some of my recommendations of where to go to get practice getting up and speaking.
Join a Toastmasters Club
If you’re not familiar with Toastmasters, it’s a not profit organization dedicated to helping people improve their speaking and leadership skills. Clubs meet (usually weekly) and follow a tried and true method for helping members reach their personal development goals. During a meeting there are one to three people who deliver a formal prepared speech, there’s practice speaking extemporaneous in a segment called Table Topics, and there are evaluations of the prepared speeches.
When people join a Toastmasters club, they receive an initial “Competent Communicator” manual which has a set of ten speeches with specific objectives that guide you through the different aspects of delivering speeches (organizing your topic, body language, persuading an audience, etc.).
I’ve seen dozens of people who were afraid of public speaking become more comfortable with speaking in front of groups using the program that Toastmasters provides.
Go to the Toastmasters website, look in the upper left corner, and click on the red button that says FIND. From there, you can plug in the zip code of where you live or work and see the Toastmasters clubs in your area. I recommend visiting a few clubs to see what day/time will work best in your schedule and to see the chemistry of the people within the club.
Toastmasters really is a great organization that has helped millions of people. Work the program and you will be a better speaker – guaranteed!
Speak at Your House of Worship
I don’t mean stand at the pulpit and deliver a sermon but in the congregations I’ve been a part of, there were always places to volunteer. And where there are places to volunteer, there are opportunities to speak in front of a group.
Try teaching a familiar lesson to a class of children. Volunteer to read a passage of scripture. Lead a committee. Volunteer to start a group around a cause you believe in.
The beauty of your house of worship is that you’ll be surrounded by supportive people who will want to help you succeed. (If you aren’t, you ought to seek a new venue to worship within!)
Talk at Work
Look for opportunities within your existing job to speak in front of your peers. Volunteer to brief your team on a new process that you read about that you believe will improve productivity. Offer to explain a special project to a group of colleagues in another part of your organization. Ask to lead a small project within your team. Speak up at group meetings to add valuable information to the conversation.
Talk with your manager and let him or her know that you want to improve your comfort at speaking in front of groups. Your manager may know of opportunities that you weren’t even aware of. Take advantage of training programs offered within your organization and volunteer when the facilitator asks for a guinea pig for the role play.
If you’re comfortable with your immediate work team, if you’ll be speaking about topics that you know well, then speaking up at work can be a helpful place to get practice in front of groups before venturing out beyond your immediate team.
Other Civic and Professional Associations
Similar to your house of worship, there are tons of civic and professional organizations who are looking for volunteers. By getting involved in the organization, you’ll find places where they need help and where your talents will help them. In those volunteer roles, look for opportunities to share what you know and speak to a group.
Avoid the Goose Poop
These suggestions probably make you uncomfortable. Good. Remember, to overcome your fear of public speaking requires you to speak in front of groups. You’ll only overcome your fear by doing what you fear and ultimately finding it’s not as bad as you think.
Will you suffer anxiety? Yes. Will you sometimes stink? Yes. But like dodging the goose poop, it was all part of the process.
You may never love speaking in front of a group. But you can do it. It just takes practice! Now go start this year the right way! Start talking!