Photo Credit: Promise Studios (www.promisestudios.org)
So, you’re in your community doing positive things. People know you. People like you. They trust you. Then one day, a lady from your church asks if you could be this week’s speaker for her weekly women’s group meetup of entrepreneurs. What do you do? Should you go? Should you respectfully decline? Is your brain even working right now because of how fearful you are the minute she uttered the word “speaker”??
Relax. I got you on this one:-)
Ok, so I know there are TONS of books on this topic and how to get over your fear of speaking publicly. There are books telling you how to stand, what to think about, how you should structure your talk, etc. I’m not going to get into any of that. I made a promise to myself and to the world for that matter a long time ago that I would only give advice that I knew from experience had actually worked. If I’m not sure, I simply don’t speak on it. That said, in my opinion, the way to overcome the fear of speaking publicly is to (drum roll please)… SPEAK PUBLICLY! It’s one of those skills you get better at by doing- not training for it or reading about it. I’m not saying training or reading is bad, but in my experience, the quicker you jump out there in the water, the quicker you are able to gain the confidence necessary to hold someone’s attention.
For some reason, I have a “jump in” spirit. I tend to jump in the water because I know even though it’s cold, it will feel better in just a little while. I remember one of my first speaking engagements after becoming an attorney was for a group of film makers in NYC. I was sitting on a panel with another attorney who had much more experience than I had, and she was a lot more polished in her presentation (in my opinion). To say I was nervous and intimidated would be a huge understatement! I was horrified. I held myself out as an entertainment attorney when meeting people, but at the time most of my experience was on the music industry side of things. I don’t even think I had a film client back then. The moral of the story is that I certainly did not feel “ready” to commit to being on anyone’s panel, but I remember at the end of that night receiving “thank you’s” and comments like “great insight” from quite a few people. True- perhaps I did not have as much experience as the other panelist. However, I learned 2 things that night:
1. There is always someone in the room who knows less than me, which means whatever I’m sharing (regardless of how remedial it may seem to me) is actually helping someone and is therefore relevant; and
2. It’s not always what you know, but rather how you share what you know. I recall instinct kicking in that night and during my speaking I went off on this tangent about “what if” this happened in film and “what if” that happened. I was proposing alternative business models to distributing films. By going with this “what if” scenario, what I accidentally did was ENGAGE the audience I was speaking to. So, what was supposed to be me speaking TO a group of people became me speaking WITH a group of people. And, since we were all throwing ideas out there anyway, who’s to say my ideas were wrong? After all, I said “what if”…
In closing, by accepting invitations to speak very early in my career, I quite naturally became better at learning the craft of it all, but also at learning what I like to call the “language of people”. I’m not talking about the English language either. I’m talking about that energy in the room that tells me when I’m dull or when I’m being too technical or when I need to appeal to their emotions. I gained all of this knowledge by simply jumping in. Today, I’m still not perfect, but I’m better and not really nervous at all when I address a room. So, my advice to you the next time Ms. Sally invites you to speak to her weekly book club…is to jump in! Say yes. Everything will be ok in just a little while:-)
Photo Credit: John Cunningham