|Speaking in front of former Washington Governor Gary Locke|
I was excited and I was nervous as hell.
I wore my dad’s sport jacket, which was probably three sizes too big for me, but helped me fill a larger presence than my scrawny self ever could. I tied my long hair back, and wore my reading glasses. I felt this made me look more professional rather than like a rock star wannabe, and calmed me down, because when I looked out into the crowd, I couldn’t see a damn thing, it was just a blur. This was a trick I used many times as I gave presentations in high school and my undergraduate and helped me to maintain eye contact with the crowd without fear.
I had my note cards, took the podium, and was ready to go. And then as we all fear in public speaking, my mind went blank. But I quickly reviewed my note cards, and started to speak. Early in the address, I must have said something funny, because I heard laughter. And it wasn’t so much what I was saying so much as my timing and delivery. I immediately capitalized on this, and perhaps exhausted it, but from that moment on, I referred back to that comment and used it as the theme for the entire speech. Soon I wasn’t even looking at the note cards, I was speaking from the heart … I think.
To this day, when I get up on stage, I have no idea what will come out, or what I will say. I have an idea, and when I have time I may even rehearse to get the general outline. I definitely leverage my raw passion and enthusiasm to carry the speech, which can work—when the delivery is dull, what’s the point? If you can present something that may seem dull and make it exciting, make a story, or tell why it matters, then you have something. I always admired professors that had this talent.
I will admit that even my shotgun blast approach in which the energy is dispersed in a large array needs focus. Guy Kawasaki in his outstanding book The Art of the Start recommends practicing 25 times before a speech that is committed to memory starts to sound natural and spontaneous, and I believe him. Once you know the material this well, you can deviate from the message, play with the language, and come back to it.
Whether you are a business professional pitching an idea, a teacher giving a lecture to students, in a book club or bible study and want to express your ideas more clearly, or looking for work and want to nail the interview, everyone needs public speaking. Everyone must be able to communicate their ideas clearly if they want to be understood.
It takes practice to get comfortable speaking in public. I suggest taking every opportunity you have to hone your skills. One excellent resources open to all of us is Toastmasters. You have the opportunity to work on different aspects of public speaking in front of people you have come to know. You get positive feedback and learn to speak to a group of people in a low-stakes setting. I recommend that you go to your local Toastmasters. Find a location near you here.