While some people seem to gravitate toward the spotlight, and enjoy being there, others of us find it doesn’t come easily. We find it intimidating, nerve-wracking, and we can’t get past the thought of failing. We remember every past situation that didn’t go so well. The pain is real. However, I believe that public speaking skills can—and should—be learned by anyone who wants to be influential.
If you sometimes doubt your ability to speak effectively in public, here are five questions that might help shape your thought process, and maybe even lead to a breakthrough. I would love to hear what you think after reading this post.
Do you have something to say? Maybe you know how to solve a problem that needs solving. Maybe you have strong opinions on a subject. Maybe you have a wealth of experience to share. Are you the person people come to when they have questions? If you believe you have something to contribute, that passion might ignite your interest in speaking out. By focusing on your contribution for the good, you may be able to forget about yourself and your uncomfortable feelings.
Are your expectations realistic? Maybe you don’t like to do anything unless you can do it perfectly. Public speaking is one thing that never seems to be perfect. We make mistakes, every one of us. The biggest problem is that even with proper preparation and a burning passion, your words never come out exactly as planned. It’s a little like skiing, or dancing; sometimes you have to “go with the flow” and trust that, while not perfect, it will be good enough. By letting go of unrealistic expectations, you may be more genuine and spontaneous, and your audience will appreciate that.
What kinds of challenges do you enjoy? Think about other areas of your life where you might enjoy the risk-taking aspects of a hobby or sport. If you like game night with friends, or snowboarding, or hunting, you already like the challenge. I suspect you find these challenges stimulating and exhilarating. Public speaking can be the same. If you think about the challenge of speaking up rather than the risk, you may be able to approach public speaking with curiosity rather than dread.
Can you let go of the outcome? For many years, I wanted to write a book on public speaking. But I was afraid that people wouldn’t like it. Or it wouldn’t be good enough. In the end I had to let go of the outcome to finish writing the book. It isn’t perfect. Maybe some people don’t like it. I haven’t sold a million copies and become a best-selling author. But I am an author. If you can let go of the outcome of your presentations, and focus on the message you wanted to impart, you may be less inclined to postpone or avoid speaking.
How much time are you willing to devote to building skills? We not only want to be perfect, sometimes we expect that it should be effortless. Think for a minute how many hours of practice it takes for a child to learn to do a cartwheel, or an Olympic ice dancer to create their performance. Steve Jobs, who was widely known for his “flawless” presentations, spent countless hours perfecting every aspect of his talks. If you are serious about wanting to be an effective speaker, you will need to devote enough time to build the skills and experience required.
You may not find that public speaking comes automatically. It will be more work and take more time than you thought. You might have to stumble a few more times than you wish (how many times do ice skaters or snow boarders fall?) You might never LOVE public speaking. But you can learn how to do it well enough to succeed at it. I think anyone can who really wants to.