I have a confession. Actually, I have several confessions, but I’ll start with just one at this time. My fear is not public speaking – it is everything involving the public. I am uncomfortable in crowds, social settings, and even groups of more than four people. I rarely introduce myself, and I intentionally avoid interactions with some people whether I know them or not. There’s no doubt in my mind that I am simply afraid of people. I do not consider public speaking to be one of my strengths. However, when I share this truth with people who have only known me since the brain injury, they laugh and question the validity of my claim.
Prior to brain injury, I started a business, worked as a management consultant for one of the largest consulting firms in the world, and volunteered with a cave cliff rescue team. These activities were only possible with the help of other people. Communication and collaboration were essential to success. Although I understood the importance of being a team player, I also recognize that I made some avoidable mistakes when I felt overwhelmed and relied too heavily on my introverted tendencies.
My need for solitude now is even greater than it was prior to the injury. Nonetheless, I relearned to succeed when working in a team environment, volunteering at crowded events, and speaking with large audiences. Since the injury, I have spoken with several groups, joined and attended social groups, introduced myself a few times, and started this blog.
I recognize that the following strategy for public speaking may not work for everyone in every situation, but it works for me and I would like to share it:
1. Select a topic that you know well. Everyone has a story to share that other people want to hear. Know your audience and know what they want to hear. If you are not allowed to select the topic, tie your personal experiences to the topic that was chosen for you.
2. Consider the time allotted for your speech. Save time for questions and answers. If you engaged your audience, they will have questions. You should be prepared to answer relevant questions.
3. Prepare and practice. Revise your notes and practice again.
4. Show up at least 15 minutes before you are scheduled to speak.
5. Present important concepts from an index card or memory rather than a lengthy paper or numerous slides. People who read from a lengthy paper tend to focus on the paper rather than their audience. People who use slides tend to read word-for-word what the slides say.
6. Share your passion for the topic and engage your audience by asking for their input.
7. Move around. Do not stand behind a podium or sit during your speech.
Have fun! You are sharing something that people want to hear. There may be people who know more about the subject of your speech and there may be people who know less, but the audience wants to hear what you have to say. You are the expert.
Following the steps listed above will reduce or eliminate your anxiety, improve two-way communication, and enhance the value that you and your audience receive.
What challenges would you face if you were asked to give a speech? How would you overcome the challenges? What topics would you like to share? If you were in the audience, what topics would you like to hear? How do you measure a speaker’s effectiveness? What is the difference between a great speaker and a terrible speaker? What could motivate you to share your experience with others?
Thanks to Merv P. and John P. for encouraging me to enroll in a Dale Carnegie course.