Updated: Jun 11, 2019
If you’re not yet confident at public speaking, you probably haven’t had a good enough reason to change – yet…
It’s often said that you can do anything if the “why” is big enough. This tiny statement speaks powerfully to the motivation that drives us to do anything. Why bother taking professional development exams? Why bother training for a marathon? Why put yourself through an excruciating trip to the dentist?
The answer to all of these is the same: The drive for the result that you want is greater than the short term pain or inconvenience that you must go through to get to the goal.
As human beings we are social creatures, and we strive to fit in. We don’t want to be the odd one out. And at a very deep-rooted level, our unconscious minds fear that being ostracised from the tribe can mean certain death. Alongside the fear of public speaking, we also fear that breaking through this and becoming confident will mean we no longer fit in. Plus, the act of standing up to present when everyone else is sitting down can create for us a “me versus them” scenario.
Anything you choose to do that is different to the tribe requires extra energy and motivation to fuel the path. So, I put it to you that if you have not yet nailed confident public speaking, then you simply don’t have a big enough Why.
When I ask people why they want to be good at public speaking, they tell me things like:
Well, I hate to break it to you but none of those reasons is gonna cut it. The Why is simply not big enough.
When I was presenting at a not-for-profit conference a couple of weeks ago, I told the group that I used to be nervous at speaking. Even though as a confident business consultant, I still got nervous when I had to present. (When you’re a professional speaker, people don’t quite believe that you used to be nervous in just the same way that they were, but you just have to trust me on that.)
One attendee asked me, “So if you used to be nervous when you spoke and now you’re a professional speaker, what changed? What was your why?”
I don’t think anyone has ever asked me that question before.
In a previous career I was working for the National Grid in Australia. In my role in community engagement I had to go out and tell the locals that transmission lines would need to be constructed in their beautiful rural community. This generated fear and concern amongst the locals and a great deal of hostility. To them, I was in their midst in support of the enemy. After three days of intensive community engagement I was given the most beautiful compliment by one of the residents on a day where I wondered if my work really made any difference; she told me “You’ve made a difference to me.”
Since making a difference is a great driver for human beings, you might think that her answer spurred me on and made me feel great about my contribution. Quite the contrary. In that moment I felt utterly deflated when I realised that I had invested three days, and the result of my efforts was to make a difference in the life of only one person.
In that moment, my Why was born. I suddenly realised that if I got really confident at speaking in front of groups instead of just one-to-one, I could address many more people at the same time.
So if you're still not confident at public speaking, here's how to change it:
Figure out your Why - the bigger the why the more likely you'll follow through. For example, you might not want to get a job or be struggling to find on, but if your children were going hungry you'd make it happen.
Set a deadline - people think they'll improve a little bit here and there over time. Sorry, that's not how it works. You have to jump in to get good. You have to have a date or an event to work to because the deadline forces you to put the work in. The great news is that if you are committed to improving the results can be very quick and dramatic.
Create a plan - if you know what your Why is and you have a deadline to meet, you just need to figure out the steps to get there. Practice is important and it doesn't happen all by itself. If you leave it to chance, or do it 'when you feel like it', it simply won't happen. You need to make time to practice alone, and create opportunities to speak in front of others. You can join a speaking club such as She Says So, speak at business networking events eg BNI, or put your hand up to speak at work.
Over to you: What’s your why?
What would learning to be great at public speaking do for you in your life, in your career, and in your perception of who you truly are?
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