I failed at my first attempt on stage in school at the age of seven facing 600 pairs of eyes. I had bombed at the fancy dress competition that took place in my school’s humongous auditorium that could easily seat a thousand people. I awaited my turn, my name was called and I climbed the steps to the stage. There was pin-drop silence when I faced the mic and those eager eyes. I forgot what I had recited. I ran off the stage. It was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. It was probably the day the seed of becoming a motivational speaker was sown in my subconscious. Had I wrote myself off, I wouldn’t be here writing the words you’re reading. I wouldn’t have been able to help Rachel, an introvert who wanted to work with me on projecting her voice to begin with.
If you think public speaking is not for you as an introvert, then you have written yourself off from being a speaker, and a great one at that. In this article you’ll learn 7 very simple yet powerful strategies that you can use to not just get over your fear of public speaking but also inspire your audience. Believe me this is possible. I’m an introvert too.
1. Talk about what you know
When you’re newish to public speaking, you may think that you have nothing to talk about. It’s probably the introvert-voice in your head not wanting to take up anyone’s time or space (the stage). I challenge you to think otherwise. Start with what you do on a daily basis. What you may do everyday is routine to you, which you may not find interesting, but who knows whom your morning routine will inspire? Also, everyone goes to work, brushes their teeth or chooses what to wear. But no one will do it the way you do it. And that’s what is unique about it. Besides, this is what you actually do know because you do it. This is the secret to telling a story - you have to know your story like the back of your hand. Use talking about what you know so that you sound authentic. And people always love and remember stories.
2. Practice. Practice. Practice
If there’s anything common among public speaking heavy-weights as well as any reasonably good public speaking coaches it is this. They practice. They practice everyday. Several times a day. And then some more. Why practice. The more you practice, the more your speech becomes a performance, together with your movement on stage, hand gestures in sync with your voice and your message. Public speaking is a motor skill. The more you practice, the better you perform.
3. Meditate for 5-10 minutes everyday
You may ask me, “What has meditation got to do with public speaking?” Here’s an article on Harvard Business Review that states “Breathing is the key to persuasive public speaking.” And what exactly are we doing when we are meditating? We’re focusing on our breath going in and out of our nostrils. Doing this over time will help you have better control over your breath. This will also be extremely handy in calming those nerves right before a very important presentation or speech. Meditation not only clams the anxiety, it also makes us more present. And as a speaker, this is an admirable quality to have. A speaker that is present to his audience and not to the fears in his mind will be able to establish a better connection with his audience. Besides presence, having clarity in thought becomes a game changer in terms of thinking on your feet while speaking.
4. Get into your body
In 2012, Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy gave a TED talk on the benefits for power-posing. Holding a powerful pose, for example “the Wonder Woman pose” for two minutes before an important talk, interview or presentation set the hormonal changes in motion for you to feel confident during your presentation. Giving yourself a pep-talk or a positive self-talk while holding the power poses can aid in visualizing yourself as the calm and confident speaker.
5. Keep it simple
Use of jargon is only relevant to context. It’s okay to use “bag holders” and “rekt” among the cryptocurrency community. But if you’re using less familiar words just to sound intelligent, you may lose a significant number of your audience members. No one likes not being able to understand what’s been said if they’re sat in a crowd. It makes them feel they’re not following your speech. Your speech must be so simple enough that even a five year old can understand. Dr. Jordan B. Peterson is a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. Watching (recordings of) his lectures is a thorough example of what keeping it simple means. He doesn’t expect his students to know the jargon. So he puts in the effort to explain the terminology he drops every now and then in order to make sure his students follow him.
6. Make yourself memorable
Use point #1 to build your storytelling skills. Then make your speech or presentation memorable by sharing stories that are relevant to your audience. Remember. Stories are those things that people can’t forget even if they try.
7. Use the power of the pause
As you advance in your speaking journey, you will learn the importance of using silence to your advantage. D. H Lawrence, a 19th century writer and poet quoted “Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you've got to say, and say it hot.” When you practice meditation, what you are also learning is to become comfortable with yourself in silence. When you become comfortable with the silence inside, you will be able to handle a few seconds of silence outside easily. Also when you have something important to say, deliberately pausing before and after your point will help the audience absorb your message.
Public speaking can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. When you shift your focus away from your fears to sharing your stories, you connect better with the audience. Remember, your audience is rooting for you. They want you to win because through your story, they see themselves winning. You are their hero who awakens the hero in them. With that said, what’s the first strategy you will start implementing?
About Neha Sonney: “Storytelling changed my life!” The breakthroughs that Neha was looking for didn’t happen at Toastmasters. Rather they come through after learning storytelling. She has been holding educational workshops on public speaking, meditation and feminine and masculine polarities. When she’s not dropping mics, doing FB Lives or being interviewed, she’s cooking up storms in the kitchen, hiking, dancing and spending time with her boyfriend and her 14 year old son. Currently she’s working on her first book on her favourite subject` - Self-love. You can find out more about her at her website. She can’t wait to connect with you on FB and IG pages or LinkedIn profile.
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