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Become a Competent Public Speaker
You are already a public speaker. When you speak to two or more people at once, you are speaking in public. When you introduce yourself at a party, you are making a public appearance. When you share your elevator pitch, you’re speaking publicly.
Everyone gets off to a terrible start. You either don’t know what to say or you’re nervous. It can be overcome with practice and guidance. You can become competent and find that uncomfortable situations become more comfortable. In a recent speech, I presented a SWOT analysis to 28 people and received very positive feedback afterwards. Twenty years ago it would have been a different story.
You’ll find yourself gracefully delivering your elevator pitch unannounced, smoothly summarizing a client, and expertly sharing your ideas with a networking group. Public speaking becomes easy.
Overcome glossophobia. It’s a hard road. Most beginners have glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking. Even if someone looks comfortable on the outside, they may be nervous on the inside. Jerry Seinfeld shared his thoughts on glossophobia saying, “…people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? It means to the average person, if you’re going to a funeral, you better to be inside a coffin than to give a eulogy.”
To overcome glossophobia, I recommend finding a local speaking club. I know of a non-profit organization that helps members develop their public speaking and leadership skills through practice and feedback at a local club. This organization has more than 260,000 members in more than 12,500 clubs in 113 countries. Since 1924, it has helped people of all backgrounds gain confidence in front of an audience. It has over 1,300 clubs in California. Meetings are not free; but I think the low price is definitely justified.
I was in this organization twice. The first time I completed 10 calls and earned a competent designation. I moved to another zip code and found another club within walking distance. I completed 15 more calls and achieved the Able designation. I understand that the designations have different names now, but the point is that I finished 25 calls.
The meetings are fun and educational. Members do a 30-second introduction. They also participate in TableTopics, a part of the meeting where the leader randomly invites members to come up to the podium and speak for two minutes on a given topic. Imagine the leader of the meeting looking at you and saying, “Here’s your table topic: How do you know when your next career move is self-employment and not just another job?” The time you need to prepare is the time it takes you to get up from your chair and walk to the podium.
There are also speakers at the meetings. Two members presented prepared speeches as lessons in their curriculum. If you’re new to speaking training, you can give a four- to six-minute speech on a topic you’re passionate about. I was passionate about diving and gave some of my best speeches on the subject.
When the featured speakers finish, their judges take the podium. Evaluators compare the delivered speech with the goals set in the speaker’s curriculum. Evaluators usually follow a sandwich cookie approach: say something nice, say something that needs improvement, say something nice. I found this feedback very valuable. Where else can you go for valuable feedback delivered in an open and friendly environment?
Evaluators aren’t the only members taking notes. One member per meeting is a volunteer “Ah, Ummm, and And counter.” Yes, I spelled it right. Yes, ahs, ummms, and give is a big deal.
When speakers add ahs, ummms, and jas to their speech, they dilute the strength of their message. They don’t do it on purpose. Rather, they search for the right words and in between accidentally utter ah, ummm or ja. Everyone does it. The biggest criminals are politicians. The next time a TV reporter asks a politician a big question, wait for the answer. If the respondent is a good speaker and has a solid answer, you will hear it. If not, you’ll get some ahs, ummms, and jas.
The experience of having someone read your ahs, ummms, and yads can help you become a stronger speaker. Removing these unintentional space fillers from your speech takes time, but it’s a necessary step.
I can show how ahs, ummms and ands dilute the message. Let’s say you walk into a room right now and say, “Mark, what are you writing today?” I could answer:
- “I write about glossophobia, overcoming the fear of public speaking. I include a funny quote from Jerry Seinfeld. I encourage readers to find a local speaking club,” OR
- “Ummm, I’m writing about ah… glossophobia, overcoming the fear of public speaking and… I’ll include a funny quote from Jerry Seinfeld. Ummmm I encourage readers to find ah a local speaking club and ummm go.”
Hard to read? Yes, I agree. It’s even harder to pay attention to speakers who accidentally emit ah, ummm, and ja. They put their audience to sleep.
Let’s say you bought a book in audio format (on CD) and I read you a random passage. It might sound like this:
- “Let your light shine. Don’t let anyone take it away. I know a woman who worked in an architectural firm. It was a strict environment and the owner was mean. The employees were unhappy. People were constantly complaining. There was a negative energy in the office, and even though this woman had considerable seniority , he was almost as obnoxious as the owner,” OR
- “Ummm Let your light shine and don’t let anyone take it away. I know a woman ummm who worked in an architectural firm and ah it was a strict environment. The owner ah ruled with ummm meanness and the employees were ah unhappy and people complained There was ah negative energy in the office and ummm, even though this woman had considerable ah tenure there, she was almost as unpleasant as the owner.”
I have another example for you. This is from President Obama. Guess which president said:
- “Change doesn’t come by waiting for another person or another time. We are the one we’ve been waiting for. We are the change we seek,” OR
- “Ummm change doesn’t come by waiting for some other person or ah some other time. We are the one we’ve been waiting for and we are the change we seek.”
The organization I found isn’t the only organization that can help you improve your public speaking. You can probably find a club near you that meets on a day and time that fits your schedule. Very few people are great public speakers. You don’t have to grow up. You just have to become competent. Anyone can become competent with practice. Be strong. Beat glossophobia.
My friend Daphne the dancer and I are coming to visit. Daphne and I are meeting at a coffee shop. He walks up to the counter and loudly announces, “I order ah a triple cappuccino and my friend gets a slice of chocolate cake there and it’s funny that he has these meetings in a coffee shop, but ummm ah he doesn’t. don’t drink coffee.” He turns to me and laughs. He continues, “Hey Mark, I was just kidding. I read your public speaking sermon on your blog. My employer sponsors a chapter of this organization and I’ve seen the logo a hundred times, but I didn’t know what they did.”
“That’s great Daphne. You have a chapter in the works. Does it fit into your schedule?”
“Somewhat. I know they meet every week. Sometimes I can attend and sometimes I can’t. I want to improve my speech. I really notice when I accidentally say ah, ummm and give. How can I break this habit if I only go to meetings once a week, if that?”
“Try this. Tell your co-workers that you’re serious about watching your ahs, ummms, and jas. If they catch you giving it out, they might stop you and ask you for a dime. This will help you identify when you’re using ahs , ummm-es, and ja-e. jas. It becomes very obvious, and you also learn to cut back on the ahs, ummm, and jas. Within a few weeks or days, you will have broken the habit. You may find that people pay more attention to you attention. you may also notice how your co-workers use ahs, ummms and ands. Make it fun. It can become fun for everyone involved. Maybe your employer pays your membership fee. It’s great training… it doesn’t cost $1000 a day like mine.”
You have many forums where you can improve your public speaking. You have many more options:
- You can become more vocal in your Mastermind group.
- You can write the proposal at work and present the summary orally instead of just emailing it.
- Find some small business owner groups in your area. Start attending their meetings.
- Go online and find some groups near you that have niches that interest you.
- Buy an inexpensive tape recorder or record yourself notes on your smartphone. Read articles (aloud) on websites. Save them and play them. You will improve over time.
- Go online and search for videos of famous speakers. I think Vice President Al Gore is great. I’m sure you already have some favorites.”
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