Public Speaking: Building Your Confidence with these 3 Tips
“Ann, come downstairs please,” called my dad from his home office in the basement. I was in the living room working on my 10th grade history paper, so I quickly finished the sentence I was writing before heading downstairs. “Hey dad, what’s up?” I asked as I got to the bottom of the steps. “I need you to conduct a short Skype meeting with two middle school students. All you need to talk about is your high school experience so far, to give them motivation and determination to do well in school.” It felt as if I was being asked to present a speech to an audience of a thousand. My heart started hammering in my chest, my palms got clammy, and knots were forming in my throat as I gulped “Uhhh dad I have a lot of homework to do, maybe another day. Can you get another student to do it?” I knew it was a big mistake as soon as the words had left my mouth; the look on my father’s face could have easily finished me off, if not the impending Skype meeting. He took a deep breath before saying with finality, “It is a simple Skype meeting, no more than 15 minutes. You are going to manage it.” Panic surged through me and my body began to tremble. I hated public speaking, especially in front of people I didn’t know! To cut to the chase, I threw a fit, sat in the corner, and cried until my mother convinced my father to get other students to conduct the meeting. Yeah, that was me.
While reading this, it might come as a shock to many of you that someone who conducts meetings daily and who has hosted and ran numerous events was insanely terrified of public speaking only a few years ago. Well, to be quite honest, it still comes as a shock to me too lol. So I will tell you what helped me get over the fear and become more comfortable with it.
1. Be comfortable with yourself. This was the hardest lesson I had to learn in order to become comfortable with public speaking. Be comfortable with you, your skin, and who you are. Without that inner confidence and strength, no amount of experience will calm the fears that consume you moments before presenting in front of an audience. I am going to be honest, this is still a work in progress with me, but by slowly building that belief and faith of “I can do it and succeed”, and realizing that people actually do want to hear what I have to say helps me achieve more in life than I ever could have imagined. So, go and stand in front of that mirror every day and say “I can do it...I am worth it...I am important...I will succeed”, so you can show the world, but most importantly yourself, just that all this is possible.
2. Pushing yourself SLOWLY out of your comfort zone. You don’t want to be pushed into the deep end of a pool on your first day of swimming lessons or go straight onto the highway on your first day of driving lessons (unfortunately, I have experienced both but we won’t get into that…). You want to instead dip your toes in or feel comfortable with the different features of the car before taking the next step. In the same way, try to take baby steps in pushing your comfort level with public speaking. First become comfortable speaking in front of your family: read a book aloud to your siblings, tell a story during dinner in front of your family, or host a virtual game night with your cousins. Then push yourself to speak to a slightly bigger audience: at church events (youth group, Sunday School) or in school groups/class. Then onto even bigger groups and stages. You’re not going to get to that comfortable setting overnight. It is going to take lots of opportunities and time (9+ years for me), but don’t hold yourself back because of the fear.
3. Choose topics and environments you are already comfortable with. It is a lot easier to talk about a topic you already know or in a setting you are already familiar with. Of course there will be times you will have to present on topics you’re not well-versed on, or in settings you’re not familiar with, but try to choose as many speaking opportunities where you feel more ‘at home’. For me, if I am placed in front of an auditorium of students, I will be completely comfortable talking about educational and career guidance. However, if you ask me to present to a team about analytical findings on a specific project, you might see me run for the hills. Figure out what you are comfortable talking about, and find opportunities to practice.