Public speaking for those who hate to, but have to

The polls say that public speaking is Americans’ number two fear, right behind snakes. What a shame.

(I suppose it stands to reason, then, that public speaking ABOUT snakes would cause instant death. I don’t know.)

I say “what a shame” because there is so much to be gained when everyday people are called upon to share personal expertise or experiences to enrich others’ lives. And yet here we are.

I see this a lot. As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we witness our own members giving the weekly addresses to the congregation on Sundays — not a paid, professional clergy member. Obviously, given the “lay” status of members, you don’t get professional speakers. You get what you get. For 10-15 minutes.

The amazing thing in our Church is, despite how nervous most people are who are asked to speak — despite feeling they’re way too shy, or not enough of an expert in the subject they’re asked to speak on, or that they rarely have to speak in front of 200 people (who does?) and therefore simply lack the public speaking know-how, they regularly inspire, motivate, and educate.

But that nervousness and those feelings of inadequacy do hold a lot of people back from being willing to speak initially. Actually, it freezes some people entirely and they turn the opportunity down. It holds a lot of people back professionally from progressing, too.

So I’ve compiled five ideas that I hope help you overcome that fear, if you’re saddled with it like many others.

1. Someone believes in you.

First of all, if you’re asked to speak on a subject, take heart in knowing that someone believes you can do the job. Somebody has confidence in you. They believe that you have gained sufficient personal experience or expertise in a subject to share for the benefit of others.

Or, they at least trust that you will stop your life for a bit, ponder about your life experiences and expertise, and work from there.

Or, maybe they trust that, given a good starting point of reference materials woven together with your personal experiences, you can craft a simple message that will help others in some way.

Take some fuel from that.

2. Despite what I just typed, it’s actually not about YOU.

Whether you’re speaking to five people or 500, you’re job isn’t really to motivate the masses. That’s a huge undertaking, especially if you’re not getting paid for this speaking engagement. There may be just one person who benefits in a deep way from the words you share and the feelings you get across. That is perfectly fine.

It’s also perfectly fine that you never know who that one person is. But let that purpose guide your willingness and your preparation: if one person benefits, that is enough, because they may benefit in a life-changing way.

3. Your audience is rooting FOR you.

They’re not rooting AGAINST you.

Very few people who are not trained to present in front of large groups watch someone else speak and think, “This guy is so unpolished! Look at how he’s standing! He says ‘Uh’ a lot. And gross — he just shared a poignant, tender personal experience!” Or anything like that.

Most are thinking, “Better him than me!”

Their expectations are low, because they imagine how much they’d hate being YOU. But meanwhile they’re also dying to be educated, inspired, or motivated. Maybe all three.

They WANT you to deliver the goods, but they’re not expecting something legendary. They want “real”.

4. The more conversational you are, the easier to prepare, and the more powerful the result.

Just talk. Once you know what you want to say. Just say it. To yourself. Then write THAT down. Don’t “craft” a speech, or a “talk”. Just write down what you want to say.

When you do this you are using your real voice. The way you’d talk to one person. That will be far easier on you. And far more relatable to your audience.

Watch this video and you’ll see what I mean. Now, Sir Kenneth Robinson is a speaking pro. But let me tell you, this talk does NOT come across that way. It’s just his natural voice and opinions shining through. He’s talking to me. He’s talking to you.

5. We’re all in this together.

The more willing to share expertise and experiences people are, the better off we all are. Think of the TED Talks, like the one I linked to in #4. You probably wouldn’t have ever heard of 99% of the people who speak at these things. But watch their talks and you’re blown away 99% of the time.

When you’re willing to get out of your comfort zone and share, you are far better off, personally. You’re stronger. More confident. More sure of yourself. More certain of your topic. More committed. Maybe you’re more inspired, yourself…

Hey maybe, just maybe, YOU are the one that benefits the most from being willing to speak.

That’s okay, too.

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