Overcoming Shyness in Public Speaking

I am no expert at public speaking, but I have been called upon to deliver speeches to crowds numerous times (at graduations, for accepting awards, as a bridesmaid, etc.) even when I was so shy that talking to people at all, let alone en masse, occasionally brought on panic attacks. Through experience, and by incorporating what worked for me as a salesperson, I now actually enjoy public speaking.

This is what I learned:

1) Treating people as I would like to be treated, and taking the time to work out who my audience will likely be, what they are interested in, and what I would want or need in their place, tends to be helpful. In sales, my most successful tactic was listening to people before giving my pitch.

2) It’s valuable to write down what I want to say beforehand. Otherwise I ramble.

3) Practicing what I want to say with an inanimate object (e.g. a mirror, wall or—as a kid—my teddy) builds my confidence. Then I can talk to people without tripping over my tongue.

4) Taking my notes with me helps me stay on point, and when I need to take a deep breath I can sneak one in while glancing at my notes.

5) To prepare, I remind myself that I know what I want to say, that it’s important to me to share this, and that I can pull this off. I find one person in the room (my mother, a friend, someone familiar) that I can “hook” onto when I realize that I can’t do this, and then I tell that person what I want to say, and once I’m back in the groove I move my attention to another person.

6) I walk into a room or to the podium with good posture, and my version of grace and confidence. (I think Audrey Hepburn.) I always smile, even if I’m suddenly struck at how bad an idea this is.

7) I approach the crowd as a mass of individuals—I direct my speech to one person at a time, usually for about a sentence, and I look them directly in the eye. I can’t talk to People because I’m not in a conversation with People, I’m having a one-on-one conversation with several persons simultaneously.

8) Above all, if I’m sincere in what I want to say, and I make a point to connect with the persons that I’m sharing my thoughts with, I tend to be successful. And while I may kick myself later for the occasional rambling, I’m in the moment and I have fun despite being somewhat nervous inside.

Some tips from the experts:

“Good public speaking is seven parts attitude and three parts mechanics (organization, body language and rhetorical devices)… You can wow an audience with a forceful message and a good attitude…” Getting Over Yourself: A Guide to Painless Public Speaking by Barbara Rocha.

10 Tips from Toastmasters International.

©2012 Joanna Celeste (http://joannaceleste.com)

[Article originally published in the May issue of SPAWNews.]

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